By Valerie Baldowski
The Henry County Board of Commissioners has temporarily put the brakes on new cell phone towers, voting Tuesday to impose a 90-day moratorium on accepting applications for their placement within the county.
According to Ray Gibson, Henry County's Planning and Zoning Department director, the moratorium will give county officials time to draft new regulations on the placement of buffers and the notification of the public of upcoming hearings. He said the freeze will also allow county officials to retain the services of a radio frequency engineer to work with wireless communications service providers.
Gibson acknowledged there has been recent public outcry by some residents over the placement of cell towers near residential areas.
"We can't ban cell towers altogether, but we can ensure that we protect the quality of life where residents are," said Gibson.
There are six applications in the county Planning and Zoning Department currently awaiting approval, he continued. Henry County officials said in a statement that the moratorium will not affect those pending applications.
The 90-day freeze will also give the county a chance to take an inventory of existing tower locations, said District V Commissioner Johnny Basler.
"This gives our staff time to develop something respectable in the books that we can go by," said Basler. "We have to take a close look at where these towers will be located. We owe it to our citizens."
He said a cell tower placed in an inappropriate location, such as in the midst of a subdivision, could hurt homeowners' property values.
"If they put it in the wrong place, it [wouldn't] help," Basler said. "I've got some real issues with it."
Gibson said traditionally, cell towers have been placed mainly along roadways. But as more residents are relying exclusively on cell phones, tower locations may need to be reviewed to support new usage patterns.
"A lot of people use cell phones rather than land lines," said Gibson. "Now, the providers are reaching more into the residential areas to get to their customers."
The Federal Communications Commission wants to reduce the strength of the towers' radio frequency emissions, he said. To compensate for the weaker signal, towers are being built closer together.
Henry County Commissioners adopted the current ordinance regulating wireless communications in 1998, Gibson said. The new ordinance will be written as part of the Unified Land Development Code (ULDC), expected to be adopted in September. When the new ordinance is written, it will replace the existing one, he said.