Plans that stalled in November to build a cell phone tower off Barbee Street extension are set be considered at a joint public hearing March 9.
The tower would bring improved cellular reception for T-Mobile customers in Zebulon, and possibly for customers of other carriers in the future.
Skyway Towers applied Nov. 10 for a special use permit to construct a 195-foot-tall monopole tower on land owned by Ann Fowler at 704 W. Barbee St. At that time, however, Zebulon planners realized the town’s ordinance on telecommunication towers did not allow for the tower as planned.
The ordinance called for fall zone easements with radii of at least 200 percent of the height of cell phone towers in areas zoned residential, like Fowler’s land. In areas zoned industrial, that percentage was 110 percent of the tower’s height.
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That meant the proposed tower would have to meet a 390-foot fall zone requirement, which it did not because of the abutting railroad track.
“The purpose of the fall zone is to protect some of the area from some of the hazards that deal with either tower collapse or could occur during maintenance of the structure,” Zebulon Planning Director Mark Hetrick told commissioners at their Feb. 2 meeting.
After some research, town staff decided the ordinance needed to be updated to keep in with the latest standards for engineering and planning.
“As a result of the excessive fall zone requirement, the proposed tower’s fall zone extended across the railroad’s right-of-way onto Ms. Fowler’s property on the northern side,” Hetrick said. “Upon review of our ordinance and other municipalities’ ordinances, staff felt the town’s current fall zone ordinance was excessive and needed to be amended.”
Staff recommended reducing the fall zone requirements to 125 percent of the tower height in residential zones and to 100 percent in industrial zones.
Town leaders approved the ordinance amendments at their February meeting, bringing the proposed Barbee Street tower into compliance under a fall zone requirement of 243 feet. Commissioners also approved changes that cleared up some of the language in the ordinance and added a condition calling for common ownership in any proposed cell tower site consisting of multiple parcels.
Skyway Towers included with its special use permit request a before-and-after map showing what effect the tower will have on local T-Mobile reception. Planner Julie Spriggs said current coverage has the lowest possible service grade, and the tower would bring the highest possible service grade.
The tower would also provide for piggybacking, so other carriers that wish to improve their coverage in Zebulon can do so without having to construct a separate tower.
“The town ordinances require anyone who wants to erect a cell tower to also provide three other open antenna spots for other service providers who may come along,” Spriggs said.