With the lease on the tower that’s currently providing the bulk of coverage in Cashiers — located at the town’s crossroads — set to expire this year, the tower building company Crown Castle is looking for a new location, and the Zachary family believes that a spot on its 20-acre property in the Gana Sita neighborhood fits the bill. Sitting above the plateau where the town spreads, the proposed location would cover nearly all the areas that the existing tower does and also extend coverage to some places not currently served by the existing tower, among them Mountain Area Family Medicine on White Owl Lane.
But not everybody agrees that Crown Castle’s plan is a good one. The strongest objections have come from Rick and Donna Barrs, who own land adjacent to the spot where the proposed tower would go. Though neither the Barrs’ home nor any other buildings are located on that parcel, the couple has said that their long-range plan is to build a development of cottages on the land. The proposed tower would be 137 feet from the property line, about as close as county ordinance allows, and the Barrs feel that the tower’s proximity would harm the buyer appeal of the development they’d like to build one day.
The Zacharys and Barrs already went head-to-head over the issue in June, when Crown Castle originally submitted its application for the tower. But at the time, Jackson County was in the final stages of revising its outdated cell tower ordinance. Crown Castle pulled the application, telling the county in a letter that it intended to resubmit the application once the ordinance revision was complete.
True to its word, the company sent a new application in mid-November, a little more than three months after commissioners passed the revised cell tower ordinance. Now, it’s up to commissioners to decide whether to give Crown the go-ahead to build.
Before they can do that, the ordinance requires that commissioners hold a public hearing and then preside over a quasi-judicial hearing — a forum that is essentially a court proceeding with commissioners sitting as judges. To be allowed to build the proposed tower, which would exceed the county’s 100-foot height limit, Crown Castle must prove that the proposed location is the best location for providing coverage and demonstrate that co-locating on existing structures won’t work to meet coverage needs. They must also show that their application meets county requirements for cell towers and prove the need for any requested exemptions.
Last week, commissioners heard opinions from a packed room, with 17 speakers representing both sides of the issue during a public hearing preceding the start of the quasi-judicial hearing, which lasted for four-and-a-half hours before recessing to 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 5, at the Albert Carlton Library in Cashiers.
Once the second part of the hearing concludes, commissioners will deliberate and come to a decision.
This is not the only cell tower application on the county’s plate. The planning office is also reviewing an application from SBA Communications to build a 180-foot monopole tower along U.S. 74 at the Cherokee exit. With demand for service increasing — both for calls and more infrastructure-intensive uses such as smartphone Internet browsing — more such applications are likely in the future.
What’s in the application?
• The proposed cell tower would be a 120-foot-tall monopole, which is 20 feet more than the allowed maximum of 100 feet. However, trees around the proposed location are between 80 and 100 feet tall, so Crown Castle says the height is necessary to broadcast signal above the canopy and is requesting a conditional use permit.
• The proposed tower would sit on property owned by the Zachary family in the Gana Sita neighborhood, just above Cashiers. According to Crown Castle, due to elevation variation and the location of water sources the only place on the 20-acre property that would work for tower construction is a spot just 137 feet from the Zachary family’s property line with Rick and Donna Barrs.
• Verizon wants to install its antenna on the tower, if built. The tower would be designed to accommodate three other carriers, but according to county consultant Larry Perry, the trees surrounding the tower would prevent signal broadcast from any arrays installed lower on the tower from reaching very far.
• Crown Castle plans to lease a 100-by-100-foot area, which would accommodate a 60-by-60-foot fenced area around the proposed tower. A natural screen of 23 Leland cypress trees and 28 rhododendrons would be planted around the fence. The base of the tower would be painted brown to blend into the surroundings.
What they said
“If a new tower were to be located in the Gana Sita neighborhood, it should be placed in a location as far away from the neighboring property owners as possible so as to avoid harm to their property values and make it least physically and visually intrusive to those neighboring property owners.”
— Adjacent property owner Rick Barrs, reading from a petition he started. He said 127 people signed the petition.
“I’m a big property rights believer. I believe in our property rights and I believe if someone owns a piece of property and pays taxes on their property, they should be able to use their property for whatever legal use they have.”
— Pat Carlton, Cashiers resident and property owner
“They (Crown Castle) want to build their tower because that’s what they do, but your wireless ordinance isn’t designed to promote towers. It’s designed to promote wireless service so people in the county can have it. Your top priority was to put a new antenna on an existing tower.”
— Craig Pendergrast, engineer and property owner in the Cashiers area, telling commissioners that the best place for a new tower would be behind the library.
“We love our peace and quiet, and we have tried to see the tower when the balloon (from the balloon test done to assess potential visibility of the tower) has gone up and we couldn’t see it. As far as we are concerned we have no problem with the tower being put where it is proposed to be put.”
— Jane Nardy, lifelong resident of property adjacent to the Zachary family
“A 12-story tower in this location was an abrupt abomination of what could happen to a woodland of this nature … I would suggest that this tower is relocated to that site in the city limits instead of on beautiful woodland like this.”
— Mary Palmer Dargen, 20-year Cashiers resident and landscape architect
“They (companies like Crown Castle) only compromise when they have no other choice. If you reject this application, they will have no other choice. That’s the only way to stop this bully. They want to have what they want to have.”
— Dan Duckham, Cashiers
“Small cells can cover our community more discretely and more thoroughly. More expensive, yes, but by law the cost is not put on the subscriber.”
— Donna Barrs, owner of property adjacent to proposed tower site
“I love to talk on my phone. I love to have Internet. I’ve had very poor service for several years — I have AT&T. The thing I’m concerned about is a bigger issue of land use … I’m just very concerned that we’re on a slippery slope of limiting use of property.”
— Keven Hawkins, Cashiers resident and planning council member
“All of our residents have viewed the circumstances. The access will apparently be through a road that we maintain, and we have no objections at all to the current situation.”
— Jeff Kahn, Gana Sita resident
“A private person could have a piece of land that the value could just be cut instantly by the use of a cell tower.”
— Marcia Shawler, Cashiers
“I have people that are CEOs tell me if thy have to climb into the corners of clubhouses to close multi-million-dollar deals, that is holding us back economically, just as the Internet connectivity is holding us back.”
— Michael Cox, Cashiers real estate broker
“I don’t have any preference whether this is approved or not approved. My question is about Big Sheepcliff (development), whether it was considered or not … We would like to be considered by the current company that wants to build a tower.”
— Jim Maultsby, member of Big Sheepcliff Property Owners Association in Cashiers
“The spot that was picked was designed to be the least obtrusive, the most hidden back in the woods of any location with only 27 feet of the tower extending above the tree line. The existing tower on Slab Town Road is butt ugly, and even if Verizon antenna were put on top of it, the doctor’s office cannot get cell service from the Slab Town Road tower. They cannot get cell service from the butt-ugly tower that is in the middle of the crossroads.”
— Mark Zachary, property owner of proposed cell tower location