Zoning may be Carroll’s only way to regulate cell towers

By Allen Worrell - aworrell@s24518.p831.sites.pressdns.com

Some form of zoning appears to be the only option the Carroll County Board of Supervisors has if it attempts to regulate cell towers in the county.

County supervisors discussed the topic during its June and July meetings. The topic was first visited in June when Laurel Fork District Supervisor Joshua Hendrick noted some cell phone towers installed in his district have created a buzz among some citizens. He asked staff and the county attorney to look into what options Carroll would have in regulating locations of cell towers.

County Attorney Stephen Durbin addressed the issue to supervisors during the board’s July 10 meeting. He said Carroll has limited options in regulating where cell towers are located.

“There are three sources of authority to regulate something of that nature. Number one would be under the Subdivision Ordinance, which doesn’t give you a lot to work with in terms of use,” Durbin said. “It really is tailored to when you subdivide land. There are setback provisions in the Subdivision Ordinance, but they’re minimal, so there is not going to be a lot of impact that way.”

He said a second source would be a ridgeline protection ordinance. Carroll looked at going that route a couple of years ago when it was discussing wind turbines. Cell towers are exempted from that part of the code, however, so you can’t regulate them through a ridgeline protection ordinance.

“The only route I see is through the same chapter of code that addresses zoning. If you were not interesting in adopting a full-blown zoning ordinance I think you could go through that process perhaps and designate certain areas you wanted to protect, whether that be in terms of no cell towers in these location, no cell towers of a certain height in these locations,” Durbin said. “Or if they are 100 foot or less, they are approved by height, higher than that would require a special exemption or something of that nature.”

Durbin noted the county could also address design to some extent. Going those routes would require a process of holding public hearings.

“You would not as I read the code have to adopt regulations over the entire county. You could have a mountaintop district and everything else there would be no regulations,” he said. “You would just regulate the mountain district.”

Hendrick said it sounded like any effective route to regulate cell towers would be through zoning in one form or another.

“Yes,” Durbin said, “That is really the only tool you have.”

Hendrick then gave each supervisor a copy of a handout with a home in his district where a 150-foot-tall cell phone tower was recently placed about 70 feet from the home. Supervisor Robbie McCraw asked if you could do a fall zone setback. Supervisor Rex Hill asked if the county could do a setback specifically for cell phone towers in its subdivision ordinance.

Durbin said he could look into that suggestion. He said a high roof district has more flexibility under its subdivision ordinance. He said he thought it would be permissible to have a setback equal to the height of whatever structure is being built – for instance a 200-foot structure would have to have a 200-foot setback.

Hendrick said he wanted to have the discussion because it’s a safety issue. When the county discussed windmills in previous years, he said the county discussed ice sheets.

“You know what ice does on a windy day when it starts to turn loose. You know what that is going to look like when it falls on a house from 150 foot up,” Hendrick said. “You are talking about roof damage, safety concerns if you are walking outside, not to mention whatever assessed value this house had prior to that antenna going in, it just went down I guarantee it. We just went through a reassessment and I guarantee you if they come out and looked at it now it is going to be lower than it was to start with. I got a few phone calls from some of the neighbors, one talking about property values, the next talking about, ‘Now when I sit out on my porch I am looking at an eight-foot-tall chain-link fence with a cell phone tower.’”

Supervisor Bob Martin said when the county talked about windmills a couple of years back, there was a company interested in putting windmills on Stoots Mountain. Currently, he said the company is planning eight windmills on Poplar Camp Mountain, all of which would be in Carroll County.

“The reason I am well versed in it, I said at the time I didn’t think it would be long until they figured out the mountain on the right side, Poplar Camp Mountain, was just as feasible as Stoots Mountain,” Martin said. “Well, that has come to pass. My brother and I own the first part of the mountain that goes up and over and we were contacted last year by the same company. And since then we have met with them and they say they would like to put at least eight windmills on Stoots Mountain in Sulphur Springs and approximately eight on Poplar Camp Mountain.”

Martin said the company has gone as far as putting a 300-foot test tower on his mountain property. He added it didn’t take long for the company to decide the test tower was feasible, so now the signing of an agreement is near. Martin said the company is currently trying to obtain right of way for 16 towers – eight on each mountain.

“There are three-bladed fans on the windmills. The blade is all the way at the top, 500 feet from the top of that to the ground. When it is all the way down it is 150 feet off the ground. At some point they have to construct power line to connect into the APCO grid so there are other things involved. That is not hypothetical. They are tying up a lot of money to get those sites,” Martin said. “It looks like it will occur because they are spending a lot of time and money. The cell tower is already in that area and other places. Windmills will be something new. They had real positive results on their test tower. I’m guessing those towers are $1 million apiece and I am hoping the county can get some tax revenue from them.”

County Administrator Steven Truitt said he thought windmills were exempt from taxes. Durbin added an acre parcel of land with a cell tower on it as valued as industrial, so it will have a higher assessed value for that acre.

Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN

By Allen Worrell