Jackson plays hardball with Verizon over Cashiers cell tower

fr celltowerPublic concerns over the visual blight of a proposed cell tower in the Cashiers area have prompted Verizon Wireless to alter its design for the tower, namely by disguising it to look like a very tall, very big pine tree.

Considering a cell tower in Whiteside Cove

The Jackson County Planning Board has of late been engaged in a discussion about the revision of the county’s ordinance governing cell phone towers. That discussion is likely to attract additional voices soon, as the board also prepares to weigh in on Verizon Wireless’ request to construct a new tower in the Whiteside Cove area.

Jackson assesses cell tower regulations

A conversation has begun in Jackson County regarding the revision of the county’s regulations pertaining to cell phone towers. 

“We’re just barely into it,” said Ed Weatherby, a member of the Jackson County Planning Board. 

Better signals may mean uglier views

fr celltowerThe Jackson County Planning Board is delving into a review of cell tower regulations and discussing changes that could ultimately allow for taller towers on mountaintops and ridges.

Trail official worries new cell tower will mar views

A communications tower in Macon County is expected to bring better wireless phone coverage to a remote region but has environmentalists concerned over its visibility from the Appalachian Trail.

More hellos than goodbyes: Topography forces cell phone companies to weigh cost-benefit of erecting new towers

coverAs long as Realtor Sammie Powell leans back in his chair in his home office, he can talk on his cell phone all day long. But as soon as he stands up to reach for something across his desk, his service goes from good to nonexistent.

“I could be sitting at my desk, and if I lean over, I might not pick up,” said Powell, who lives and works from his home in Villages of Plott Creek neighborhood in Waynesville.

How much is a cell tower worth? Counties could be getting short end of the stick

Haywood County might not be getting a fair shake from cell tower companies on their property taxes.

County commissioners learned this week that cell tower companies might be underestimating the value of their towers and equipment, and as a result, are likely paying less in county taxes than they should.

To remedy the problem, Haywood County is exploring bringing in an outside consultant to assess an accurate value on the 23 cell towers operating in the county.

Currently, the county relies on cell tower companies’ honesty when declaring the value of their equipment but has no way of being sure whether it is accurate.

“We didn’t have the ability to go out there and dispute it,” said David Francis, director of Haywood County’s Tax Department. “Frankly, we don’t have the expertise and the knowledge to do something like that.”

The county is considering hiring Cell Tower Solutions, a Georgia-based company, which does have the know-how to valuate cell towers and their related equipment.

If hired, Cell Tower Solutions would do a physical inspection of all 23 cell towers in the county and inventory the equipment connected to them. Cell towers should be revaluated about every three years, according the company’s website.

The audit would cost a total of $56,000, but it could result in an estimated $216,000 dollars in additional tax revenue each year.

“The issue for me is fairness,” said Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick. The cell companies should pay taxes based on the true value of their towers and equipment, but “We can’t determine the true value.”

Unlike taxing vehicles or homes, the county has no reference points by which valuate cell towers. And, the other problem is that a cell tower’s worth is based on what the cell service provider gets out of them — based on the volume of calls and data that move across the tower — not necessarily the materials that comprise them. Some towers are priced at a mere $5,000, while others are valued at near $350,000.

“It’s all over the place,” Francis said. “We need help with this.”

Five other North Carolina counties are in the process of hiring outside consultants to perform the cell tower evaluations, Francis said, adding that he has been negotiating with Cell Tower Solutions since October.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

The Board of Commissioners seemed amenable to the idea.

“I don’t sense any objection on the board,” said Mark Swanger, chairman of the board.

Francis said he hopes to present a contract to the county commissioners early next month.

Sylva may be stuck with cell tower

The Sylva Town Board opposes the construction of a 195-foot-high cellular communications tower on the main commercial drag of N.C. 107, but a state law passed in August may allow the tower to go up anyway.

The cell tower, planned by Pegasus Tower Company of Cedar Bluff, Va., would dominate the ridgeline next to the unfinished Comfort Inn adjacent to Andy Shaw Ford.

Pegasus originally received a building permit for the tower in June 2008, but because construction did not begin within six months, the permit expired.

Sylva amended its cell tower ordinance in November 2008 to conform to Jackson County’s ordinance. The ordinance stipulates a maximum height of 120 feet, which would rule out the tower Pegasus plans to build.

The Sylva board met in closed session last month to discuss legal matters concerning the issue and determined they had grounds to deny Pegasus a new permit.

“We think we’re on firm legal ground to deny it,” Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody said.

Moody said the board considered the tower a safety issue because a “fall zone” had not been included in its design plans.

But Pegasus believes the North Carolina Permit Extension Act of 2009, a state law intended to offset onerous permitting requirements during the down economy, applies to cell tower construction. The company plans to build the tower without a new permit from the town of Sylva.

David Owens, professor at UNC Chapel Hill’s Institute of Government, said Pegasus’ permit is likely still valid.

“If that permit was valid at any time during that last three years, then it’s still valid,” Owens said.

Companies forced to put construction projects on hold during the recession would typically see their permits lapse. The state bill was intended to save developers from having to go through the permit process over again when they were finally ready to proceed.

Owens said the Permit Extension Act defines development so broadly that the construction of cell towers is included. The statute essentially delays the mandatory start period for development projects initiated between January 2008 and December 2010.

Following the logic of the bill, Pegasus would have six months from December 2010 to start work on the tower under the terms of its current permit.

Sylva board member Chris Matheson said she and her fellow board members felt strongly that the tower shouldn’t be constructed in the proposed location.

“I don’t know how much there is to say other than that the town is vehemently opposed to it,” Matheson said.

Matheson also said the town is working with Pegasus to see if both parties can agree on an alternative site for the tower.

“We’re working with Pegasus to see if we could provide a location that would be attractive to them but more in line with that the community needs,” Matheson said.

Sylva Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower confirmed that the town’s attorney, Eric Ridenour, has engaged in discussions with lawyers from Pegasus to resolve the issue.

If Pegasus and the town cannot come to an amicable resolution on the issue, Owens believes Sylva must have grounds other than an expired permit to prevent the project from going forward.

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