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W.Va. planners want to put a hold on phone towers

February 10, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

W.Va. planners want to put a hold on phone towers

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The Jefferson County Planning Commission on Tuesday voted 5-4 to recommend a moratorium on cellular phone towers until July 1 to give planners time to draft an ordinance regulating the structures.

The moratorium recommendation will go to the Jefferson County Commissioners for approval. The commissioners meet today.

The moratorium issue was raised after U.S. Cellular received approval from the Planning Commission on Dec. 9 to build a 260-foot-high tower next to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in the middle of a Civil War battlefield.

An earlier meeting held by the Jefferson County Commissioners drew more than 60 people, who asked for an immediate moratorium.

Only two people spoke during the public input portion of Tuesday night's meeting.

One of those said that ham radio towers should be included in any moratorium and ordinance. The other person who spoke said ham radio towers should be excluded.

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The Planning Commission staff will do research before coming up with a draft ordinance, although several Planning Commission members have said the wireless communication towers should be exempt from any regulation.

Under current county law, cellular phone towers must meet setback and road requirements, but there are no regulations on height or location.

Planning Commission President Scott Coyle said that as things stand, a 260-foot-high cellular phone tower with a blinking red light could be built next to any home in the county.

Planning Commissioner Cam Tabb said he considers cellular phones an essential utility, which would exempt them from any regulations.

Construction of the U.S. Cellular tower is on hold because of federal regulations regarding environmental concerns and historical sites.

Jennifer Ramsey, an attorney representing U.S. Cellular, said whether a moratorium would prevent U.S. Cellular from selecting an alternative site remains a legal question.

One proposal called for the tower to be built on a water tower site on top of Bolivar Heights, a plan that might be exempt from a county moratorium because the water tower is owned by the town of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., she said.

Another possibility would be to put the tower on a flagpole at the entrance of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. That option also might be exempt from the county's moratorium, she said.

National Park officials have rejected a suggestion that the cellular phone tower be disguised as a flagpole, saying the proposed pole looked more like a smokestack than a flagpole, said Scot Faulkner, president of the Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Ramsey said the flagpole option has not been rejected by the park service. She said another round of discussion is needed to come up with a different design to disguise the tower as a flagpole.

Another option would be to build a higher steeple for a Pentecostal church in Harpers Ferry and to hide the cellular tower in the steeple, Faulkner said.

Faulkner said both sides had hoped to come up with an alternative solution before the moratorium goes into effect.

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