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Wednesday, 25 January 2017 15:19

Verizon proposes new tower at Lake Junaluska

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Verizon Wireless has approached Haywood County commissioners once again about installing a new cell tower near Lake Junaluska to improve service for customers, but this time they feel certain it will be built.

Commissioners approved Verizon’s permit request for the same tower two years ago, but Verizon didn’t follow through with the project and the permit expired. Another public hearing was held during the commissioners’ Jan. 17 meeting, but no one from the public spoke for or against the project. 

“We filed for the same variance and special permit we did in 2014 and 2015,” said Verizon spokesperson Laura Goode. “The permit requires us to construct the facility within a year or the permit expires — we were unable to do that.”

Goode said many factors were at play when deciding where and when to construct new infrastructure. The company has to take into account the network as a whole when setting priorities and ranking projects. Goode said the demand for data is changing quickly within the network and making it difficult for Verizon to manage.

“The demand for data leads to unexpected changes and needs in the network so priorities can shift quickly,” she said. “It’s a rare circumstance though — we’ve never seen a permit expire. We’ll do everything we can to make sure it gets built in this year’s timeframe.”

Goode said the new proposed tower — which would be located at 660 Sleepy Hollow Drive — would improve a large gap in coverage in the area north of U.S. 19 and south of I-40 and east of U.S. 276. While there is a tower in the Ivy Hill area, she said the mountain terrain creates dead zones. 

“The West Canton site is reaching capacity to service the demand of customers in that area — what that results in is dropped calls, an inability to send and receive text messages, emails and the inability to access the internet,” Goode said. 

The proposed tower would be a 132-foot monopine, which would be constructed to look like a tall pine tree to blend in with its surroundings. As was requested two years ago, Verizon is asking for a variance on the required “fall zone” setback. The county ordinance requires the fall zone to be at least half the height of the tower plus a 25-foot setback, which means Verizon would need 91 feet of space surrounding the tower. 

Goode said the tower would meet that requirement on all sides of the property line except the northern side of the property where the setback is about 16 feet short. However, Verison secured signed consent letters from the adjacent property owners.

The county’s cell tower ordinance also requires the tower to be built to accommodate at least one other provider to co-locate on the facility. When asked if this particular tower would be able to accommodate more than one colocation, Goode said a 132-foot tower is considered short and wouldn’t have the structural capacity for more providers.

Goode said one nearby property owner did have a concern about runoff onto his property once construction of the tower in under way. Fortunately, the site at Lake Junaluska is also home to a water tower, which means there won’t be that much prep work needed for the cell tower. 

“It’s hard to find a spot in the mountains where you don’t have to create a driveway or do a lot of grading to build the tower — so we’ll have minimal disturbance,” Goode said. 

County Planning Director Kris Boyd said there had been some storm water issues in the past on that site. He suggested the commissioners make some storm water system improvements a condition of the permit if they approve it because some minimum grading work would need to be done. 

Commissioners did not make a decision on the permit following the hearing but they did seem to be in consensus that the tower is needed. 

Commissioner Kevin Ensley said coverage at the county fairgrounds was spotty and he hoped the new tower would improve service out there. 

Commissioner Mike Sorrells said he had heard complaints from constituents about the lack of service in the area for several years.

“I’d hope that now this thing is going to be built,” he said. “It would have helped this area two years ago. I would hope you’re not back here asking again because I might not want to do it next time.”

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