Smart action on cell towers in Jackson
By Craig Pendergrast • Guest Columnist
I am writing to applaud the Jackson County commissioners for recently completing a difficult re-write of the county’s cell tower code. Along with other interested property owners, I was an active participant in that process, having gained much experience and information about the way cell tower companies and their contractors operate.
That experience includes having dealt with two separate cell tower applications in Jackson County over the past couple of years. One application was for a tower right next to my family’s property in Whiteside Cove in south Jackson County. The other application was next to land owned by another family closer to Cashiers. In both cases, cell tower companies had proposed to build towers the height of a 12-story building very close to our property lines that were going to ruin our views and property values. In both cases, there were much better, less intrusive, and less expensive options available to the companies that they failed to consider, much less pursue. In both cases, it was only after our families spent a lot of time and money learning about the cell tower world and making detailed comments that the companies finally realized that their applications were ill-conceived and withdrew them.
The idea behind both the old ordinance and its revision is that the county’s residents, property owners, businesses, tourists, and travelers deserve to have improved wireless access, while they also need to preserve the natural beauty of the county and the value of other properties in the community by making sure that there are no better, less intrusive alternative locations, heights, designs, and technologies that are feasible before a permit for a big, ugly cell tower is granted.
Back to our two families’ experiences with the now-withdrawn applications to put towers next to our properties. In both cases, it became clear that the site location contractors for the companies had not actually set foot in the area before entering a lease for the proposed host properties and then submitting applications.
In both cases, they attempted to locate the tower as near to the border between the host properties and our neighboring properties as possible, instead of attempting to locate the tower more internally to the host properties so as to avoid adverse impact to our properties. In both cases, it became clear that they gave only lip service to the concept of looking for better locations and methods on or off the proposed host properties to put their facilities where similar levels of service could be provided.
The revised ordinance, if applied carefully by the county’s staff and commission, should make cell tower companies take a genuine hard and detailed look at finding the best and least intrusive technology, design, and location for their facilities before they make an application. One of the alternatives that should be considered before they decide to try to build a big tower is whether signal booster technology can be installed in areas with currently low cell coverage. Low cost technology now exists that will boost single bar coverage to 4- or 5-bar coverage by placement of a signal booster in a low coverage area.
Thankfully, it looks like our commissioners get all that. They want us to have better wireless service in the county, but not at the cost of intrusive new towers unless absolutely necessary and sited smartly so as to not harm the values of other properties in the community.