Last updated: April 19. 2014 3:46PM - 1029 Views
By - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

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Cell phones have become a way of life, but there is concern this could lead to Mount Airy’s landscape becoming saturated with telecommunications towers.

“I just don’t want to see us overpowered with it,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said Thursday night during a city council meeting when a proposal for lessening the regulations for cell tower placements in town was aired.

Mount Airy officials were told that with increasing use of cell phones, there is a corresponding need for towers.

“I just don’t like that,” Brinkley added of the prospects for large numbers of cell towers in the city limits.

“And I like my cell phone.”

The cell tower issue arose Thursday night in conjunction with a public hearing held then on a series of changes recommended by city planners to clear up discrepancies in Mount Airy’s zoning laws. In addition to cell towers, the proposed amendments affect single-wide mobile home replacements in R-20 (single-family residential) zones, “ghost signs,” parking lot construction and zoning variances for hardship cases.

A requirement to allow cell towers to be located closer to residences than presently permitted is among the proposed changes.

Telecommunications towers now may be placed no closer than 500 feet from any existing dwelling, unless the dwelling is on the same parcel of land as the tower. Under the change, a cell tower could be put near a home at a distance no closer than the height of the tower, plus 50 feet.

Typically, cell towers can be about 200 feet tall, which under the amendment could be placed within 250 feet of a home, rather than 500 feet — half the existing distance.

Andy Goodall, a city planner who briefed the commissioners on the zoning issues, said that with the growth of cell phone technology, more towers are needed. Developments such as smartphones and 3G and 4G systems have increased demands on network resources, which explains the move to reduce the allowable distance between towers and homes.

“I believe we have them right now,” Goodall said of towers in the city limits. “At some point, we’re going to need more.”

The city planner referred to how consumers want towers, to ensure reliable service, but only out of sight in the countryside — which won’t satisfy the need.

Goodall said Mount Airy Planning Board members, while recommending the full set of zoning changes to the commissioners, did express concern that lessening cell tower regulations could lead to the structures going up all over town.

But in responding to that concern, and comments by Brinkley Thursday night, Goodall said this likely wouldn’t occur due to a rule stating that cell towers in Mount Airy can be no closer than a half-mile from each other.

Mobile Homes

No one spoke either for or against the proposed zoning amendments Thursday night, but the commissioners did offer comments, on the mobile home issue as well as cell towers.

Commissioner Steve Yokeley had concerns about changes involving replacement of single-wide mobile homes in R-20 zones, which include residential sections just outside the city but still within Mount Airy’s zoning control. Maps show that R-20 zones surround the entire municipal limits and include recently annexed areas.

Yokeley pointed out that those zones include a lot of nice neighborhoods, such as Cross Creek. “So it is important to a lot of us,” he said of rules for mobile homes.

Goodall said the main issue with the zoning change involves a need to tweak the rules to apply equally to R-20 districts and all other areas in town and avoid possible legal entanglements. “A zoning district is a zoning district for the entire zoning jurisdiction,” the planner said of the legal need for all-encompassing provisions.

The change essentially would make it clear that existing single-wide mobile home homes can be replaced by 1970s-or-newer units in R-20 districts. “We are not allowing new mobile homes on vacant grounds,” Goodall added of the altered zoning language.

Yokeley questioned whether more than one mobile home could be replaced, which Goodall says would be permitted only in cases of mobile home parks.

“I think it needs a little more work,” Yokeley said of the proposal, adding that one concern is making sure city regulations conform to those of the county.

“Ghost Signs”

No action was taken on the proposed zoning changes Thursday night, which also are targeting ghost signs — old images on exterior building walls which have become weathered.

Restoring such signs to original brightness of color and visibility has been popular for artistic reasons, to provide attractive murals, but existing rules don’t allow this in Mount Airy if a commercial trademark is involved.

An old ghost sign is on the side of the Hair World building, but present rules prohibit its restoration.

Adding a ghost sign exemption to a list of signs not requiring a permit under city zoning rules “would allow it to happen,” Goodall said.

City planners further recommend that regulations for the construction of parking lots be streamlined from present rules considered too subjective. Amended language concerns the surfacing of new parking lots, such as for a company, specifying that all required parking and vehicular traffic surfaces shall be graded, properly drained and maintained with asphalt or similar material.

Another suggested amendment clarifies when variances — or relief for specific properties from the letter of zoning laws — can be applied to hardship cases. It states that variances may be granted in instances where “unnecessary hardships” result from strict application of the zoning ordinance or from conditions that are peculiar to a property, such as topography, location or size.

Hardships resulting from personal circumstances will not be the basis for approving a variance, under the proposed changes, and no change in permitted uses for a site may be authorized by a variance.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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