Cell tower ordinance protects historic sites

March 11, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

Cell tower ordinance protects historic sites

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The Jefferson County Planning Commission approved a proposed ordinance Tuesday that would prohibit wireless communication towers from being built on historic sites.

The commissioners said they believe the measure will protect the public and cellular phone company interests, although it's not expected to have any effect on plans by U.S. Cellular to build a 260-foot-high cellular tower next to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

The Planning Commission has approved that tower, but it's currently blocked from construction because of federal regulations regarding environmental and historic sites.


A public hearing was set for 7:30 p.m. April 7 at the Jefferson County Planning Commission to give residents a chance to comment on the proposed ordinance.

The proposed ordinance will be made public later today after the county planning department has had a chance to polish the draft copies to reflect changes made by the Planning Commission at Tuesday's meeting.

After the public hearing, commission members will decide if any changes need to be made in the proposed ordinance. If not, it would go to the Jefferson County Commission for approval.

A moratorium is currently in place on cellular phone towers until at least July 1 to give the Planning Commission time to come up with an ordinance regulating the towers.

The moratorium was prompted by U.S. Cellular's tower proposal. Officials from the company are working with the National Park Service and other opponents of the tower's battlefield site to come up with an alternative site.

Under the current county law, the cellular phone towers have to meet setback and road requirements. There are no regulations regarding their height or location.

Under the proposed ordinance, the towers would have to be set back from neighboring property lines by at least the height of the tower plus an additional 10 percent. For example, a 100-foot-high tower would have at least a 110- foot setback requirement.

Planning Commission members wanted the setback so towers could not fall onto neighboring properties.

Under a suggestion by Planning Commission member Dean Hockensmith, a change was made to allow an exception to the setback requirement on farm land if the cellular phone company leases an easement from the neighboring property owners.

Planning officials said in most cases, cellular phone companies will not want to negotiate with multiple property owners, but may have to in some cases to get the best site for the towers.

The proposed ordinance also has a requirement to blend in visually with the rural setting.

Some commission members said they were not sure if they could make architectural or aesthetic judgments, but others said it was a necessary provision to protect neighboring properties from "ugly towers."

An exception to the visual impact is when the towers are located on existing structures such as water towers, farm silos or church steeples.

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