Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: What is the status of the plan to put more cell towers in neighborhoods in Fletcher? Where are they looking? And which company is doing this? Are they putting them in numerous neighborhoods? And why? I think this may be newsworthy if they’re putting these in a lot of neighborhoods.
My answer: I’m truly torn here between badly desiring better cell reception but not wanting my brain fried prematurely.
Real answer: First off, I’m a Fletcher resident myself, so I’m not surprised a friend of mine asked about this. On the one hand, we need better cell service around here for sure, but on the other, no one wants a cell tower on the pole out back.
Fletcher Town Manager Mark Biberdorf said these “towers” are actually called “small wireless facilities.”
“These are actually small antennas that are placed on a utility pole or built into the structure itself,” Biberdorf said. “The total height including the antenna is typically about 50 feet. A 40-foot utility pole with a small cell antenna on top is what is allowed by law within a subdivision.”
The company looking at this is called Crown Castle, he said.
“What brought it to light recently were residents in Windsor Forest (a subdivision off Fanning Bridge Road) noticing that Crown Castle was looking around in the neighborhood,” Biberdorf said. “Council and staff have heard from multiple residents about this and are trying to work with Crown Castle to steer them away from primarily residential locations.”
Biberdorf said town staff met with Crown Castle representatives Sept. 28 to discuss their list of proposed locations for small cell facilities.
“Three of their seven sites were in Fletcher, and two of those three sites were within our neighborhoods — in Franem Acres at Oakbrook Road and Hickory Drive, and in Windsor Forest at Mountain Alder Lane and Red Spruce Way,” Biberdorf said Oct. 25. “Crown Castle was asked to consider alternate locations for those two sites. We are waiting to hear back from them.”
Fletcher’s Town Council recently passed a resolution about this, titled, “Resolution restricting the location of small cell wireless facilities in residential areas of the Town of Fletcher.” It states that the towers could detract from the aesthetics of neighborhoods, and that the placement of these wireless facilities near homes “causes concern due to the unknown health effects of radio waves on people and wildlife…”
So, the town’s desire, according to the resolution, is “to steer the potential location of small cell wireless facilities toward other non-residential areas where utilities are above ground and/or they can be co-located on existing utilities.
I sent Crown Castle a list of questions, including if the company is pursuing these towers in Fletcher and other local towns, and company representative Melissa Hilliard responded with a brief statement.
“Reliable wireless connectivity is essential for first responders and local economic strength and improves (the) general way of life,” Hilliard said via email. “In many areas, 80 percent of 911 calls are from wireless devices. We are working with the Town of Fletcher and other communities in western North Carolina to determine the best locations for small cells to provide more wireless coverage and capacity.”
Fletcher Town Manager Eric Rufa told me, “This is a lot broader issue than just the local Fletcher level.” The state legislature passed House Bill 310, Wireless Communications Infrastructure Siting,” in 2017.
“The bill that passed is statewide, and basically mandates that these small cell facilities be treated like a public utility and thus must be allowed in public rights of way,” Rufa said. “So they will likely be everywhere soon. We are just hopeful that they will work with the town on locations for these.”
In its report on the 2017 legislative session, the North Carolina League of Municipalities said the comprehensive measure “contained procedures for and restrictions on local government regulation” of the facilities.
The league said these small cell facilities “typically consist of an antenna, utility pole, and ground-mounted equipment box, and are most often located in the public right-of-way.
“Similar legislative efforts occurred in state legislatures across the country this year (2017), and the League engaged in extensive negotiations with wireless industry representatives to ensure that cities would retain oversight over matters of concern such as public safety, space between facilities, aesthetics and appearance, utility undergrounding policies, and historic districts,” the league’s report states. “The League also negotiated other terms more favorable to cities than in the filed version of the bill. This new law will likely require significant updates to local codes and permitting processes to accommodate the prescriptive procedures detailed in the bill.”
I emailed with the incorporated municipalities in Buncombe County (the Town of Fletcher is in Henderson County) to see if they’ve gotten requests from Crown Castle or any other telecom company for these devices.
City of Asheville spokesperson Kim Miller said the city has “been contacted by Crown Castle, but no detailed information was discussed.
“The City of Asheville does not require zoning permits in the right of way for the location of small wireless communications infrastructure, but (we) do have standards and specifications to be followed,” Miller said via email. “We are being guided by the House Bill and following Session Law.”
In Weaverville, Town Manager Selena Coffey said it has had no “requests from this company or any others for 5G towers.
“That’s not to say that we won’t receive requests, but as of now we have had no communication from them,” Coffey said.
Black Mountain Town Manager Josh Harrold also said via email the town has yet to receive any inquiries about this.
In Biltmore Forest, Town Manager Jonathan Kanipe said it has not had “any applications, or contact, from Crown Communications or any other telecom companies for 5G or small-cell wireless collocations within the town’s rights of way or on any other town-owned infrastructure.
“The Board of Commissioners have not considered a resolution regarding this issue and, as you noted, HB310 effectively limited any municipality action that would prevent collocation within the rights of way,” Kanipe said. “Anecdotally, we have had one or two residents who have expressed concern over 5G cellular service, generally.”
Montreat Town Manager Savannah Parrish said Crown Castle has not made contact with the town. In Woodfin, Town Manager Shannon Tuch said it has not had contact from any companies about new towers or small cell wireless.
“We require a special use permit for a new cell tower, but small cell wireless goes on existing utility infrastructure, and the state widely allows it, so we don’t regulate them,” Tuch said via email.
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