Town tackles tower mandate

Homeowners wanting to move into future subdivisions may find 50-foot cell phone towers in those subdivisions.

Farragut Municipal Planning Commission will discuss revisions to its ordinance on telecommunications towers during its meeting starting at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 16, in a response to Federal Communications’ Commission’s mandate about cell tower locations within the Communications Act.

Mark Shipley, Farragut Community Development director, said he is hoping FMPC will act on the revisions in March.

During a staff-developer meeting Tuesday, Jan. 31, he told staff and Farragut aldermen Ron Williams and Louise Povlin. Povlin sits on FMPC, about the FCC mandate, which states a municipality cannot exclude cell towers.

The Communications Act, a federal law, “sets forth specific limitations on [state and local] authority.

“Specifically, a state or local government may not unreasonably discriminate among providers of functionally equivalent services, may not regulate in a manner that prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services, must act on applications within a reasonable period of time and must make any denial of an application in writing supported by substantial evidence in a written record,” the federal law states.

Shipley said the Town is looking at revising its telecommunications ordinance so the towers will be included when a new subdivision is being built.

“I would like to see it done on the front end,” Shipley said, adding if done that way, when a potential homeowner is looking to buy a lot or home in a new subdivision, he or she will know there will be a tower in that subdivision before he or she buys a home or lot.

While the FCC may tell the Town a tower needs to be in a particular area, the Town would have say as to specifically where, within that location, the tower could be placed.

Currently, the Town’s ordinance does not allow large cell phone towers, such as the tower off Concord Road, in residential areas.

In trying to legally avoid subdivisions, Shipley stated in an e-mailed response, “The hierarchy of tower placement would prioritize non-residential areas first as possible locations for towers of any kind.”

Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen, in 2016, approved a zoning amendment that allowed Branch Towers to erect a 160-foot-tall cell phone tower on a portion of property adjoining Clarity Pointe and First Utility District off Concord Road.

The FCC mandate would change that restriction and small towers would have to be allowed. Shipley said the Town also would have some control over the appearance of the tower, so the Town could require a stealth application, such as having the tower appear to look like a tree or a utility pole.

Shipley said by requiring the tower to look like a utility pole, it could be placed next to a utility pole.

According to the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, the law was enacted as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which established further limitation on state and local land use authority over certain wireless facilities.