Morrisville considers plan for cell towers

aramos@newsobserver.comJuly 15, 2013 

  • Morrisville survey results

    60 percent said a cell tower visible from their neighborhood is OK if it means good cellphone reception.

    70 percent preferred a concealed tower, such as a fake tree.

    82 percent supported the use of taller towers in non-residential areas if it means shorter towers elsewhere.

    83 percent encouraged the use of dual-function towers, such as on street lights and flag poles.

    Source: Town of Morrisville

— Residents want good cellphone service, but they don’t want to look at an unsightly tower to get it, according to a Morrisville town survey.

Ninety-three percent of respondents said they preferred concealed towers, according to Morrisville’s second Community Preference Survey. A total of 121 people took the survey online and through an interactive town workshop.

Under a proposed Wireless Telecommunication Facilities Master Plan, cell tower developers would have to make it a priority to conceal the towers.

Morrisville began work on the plan in 2011 after the town faced a lawsuit filed by American Tower Corporation and scrutiny from the Wireless Infrastructure Association.

The town won the lawsuit, which was filed after Morrisville denied a special-use permit for a 175-foot cellphone tower in the Providence Place neighborhood.

But town officials realized there was a need for clear rules and guidelines for developers.

“This gives us a lot more control,” Senior Planner Rodney Watkins said of the master plan. “We can control height and locations. This moves us more consistent with federal laws and likely state laws.”

Watkins presented the highlights of the plan to the Town Council last month. The council could adopt the plan in July.

The next step would be to develop zoning rules for cell towers.

Under the proposed plan, telecommunication tower developers would have to abide by a hierarchy.

“They have to start with the preferred options,” Watkins said. “The applicant has to work through the list and provide rationale why they can’t build at the preferred locations.”

Options could include concealing the tower; putting an antenna on an existing telecommunications site; building a tower on public or pivate property disguised as a faux tree, flagpole or banner pole; putting a dual-function tower on private nonresidential property.

Residential areas should be the last resort for towers, according to the plan.

Morrisville needs more towers. Currently, there are seven towers within the town’s borders and 15 within a one-mile radius. In the next 10 years, the area will need 36 new antennas, and 18 of those could go on public land.

“Hopefully we won’t have a situation like we had (with) Providence Place,” said Town Councilwoman Liz Johnson. “I think we can find an option we can all live with. ... Clearly that is much more acceptable than what we have today.”

Ramos: 919-460-2609

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