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Jackson considers UDO amendments for cell towers, campgrounds

Jackson considers UDO amendments for cell towers, campgrounds

Jackson County will hold a public hearing on two amendments to its Unified Development Ordinance this month.

The proposed changes would amend the current wireless communications development standards and add development standards for campgrounds.

As it stands now, all new telecommunications towers must apply for a special use permit and receive approval from the board of commissioners in a quasi-judicial hearing. If the amendments are approved, it would provide for an administrative approval process for all wireless communications facility applications.

According to the planning department, there are two reasons for the change. First, the county has held several hearings for wireless communications towers over the past seven years with almost no input from the community or owners of adjacent properties. Second, the quasi-judicial process is more like a court case than a public hearing. It is a regimented process only open to people with legal standing. In addition to changes in the state statutes regarding appeals of quasi-judicial cases that create legal liability issues for local governments, this is leading to communities reevaluating the approval process.

“What we’ve seen over the last couple years in the state legislature is that how we hold those hearings, and how appeals can be made to those hearings, does present some liability to the county about how that operates,” said Jackson County Planning Director Mike Poston. “That led us to really talk about how do we approve wireless communications towers. And we’re proposing to commissioners that we move to an administrative approval process.”

The proposed amendments would also increase tower heights up to 199 feet, from 180 feet, in recognition of the county’s unique topographic challenges and the need to include the co-location spaces for two additional providers required at all towers.

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“There are certain areas where 180 feet would not necessarily gain the type of coverage needed for a particular type of tower or in a particular area,” said Poston.

Towers that exceed 200 feet are required by federal regulations to be lit up at night.

“One of the things that we did is we’ve exempted facilities owned by the state of North Carolina that are emergency management facilities,” said Poston. “If the state came in and said ‘we need a viper tower at this location,’ we’re going to tell them to move ahead with that because we’ve already provided exemptions for those types of emergency management types of services.”

The proposed campground regulations are intended to help guide campground development in Jackson County while providing for health, safety and general welfare of the county and campground users. Currently there are no existing regulations for developing campgrounds in Jackson County.

According to planning staff, there has been an increase in the number of campgrounds being proposed and developed in the county. The idea for the regulations arose from discussion during the permit review staff meeting that includes representatives from the code enforcement department, environmental health, planning and other departments.

“Working with this group, we tried to put together some rules that we think doesn’t limit your ability to put in a campground inherently, you can still do that, but we want to put some framework to how those happen,” said Poston. “Because we were hearing comments from our environmental health folks about waste disposal and folks making use of our creeks and rivers for various sundry activities including laundry and all of those things.”

The proposed regulations include a minimum lot size required to establish a campground, maximum density of sites per acre, setback distances for property lines adjacent to campsites, minimum road construction requirements, 911 addressing and signage, as well as requirements for bathhouses and laundry rooms.

The proposal defines a campground as two or more temporary or permanent buildings, tents or other structures established or maintained as a temporary living quarter, operated for recreation, religious, education or vacation purposes. Any existing campgrounds at the time the ordinance is adopted will become subject to the ordinance if it is expanded.

All proposed campgrounds must be a minimum of two acres in size. The proposed ordinance splits campgrounds into two levels with specific regulations for each level; level one campgrounds have at least two campsites but less than 15, and level two campgrounds have more than 15 campsites.

At the March 14 commissioner meeting, Poston told the board that there has been little feedback from the public regarding the proposed UDO amendments.

“We’ve not heard any comments,” said Poston. “We did hold a public hearing at the planning board level and received no public comments during that process.” 

The public hearing will be held at 6:25 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, at the Justice and Administration Building in Sylva.

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