Communications companies won't be able to fly new towers under Douglas County's regulatory radar anymore.
At least for a while.
Commissioners are putting a ban on new communications towers in rural areas, effective for the next six months.
The moratorium will give commissioners time to adjust their tower approval process. The county's existing regulations require companies to secure permits for new towers only if the towers would be at least 100 feet tall.
Earlier this year, AT&T; Wireless came in with plans for towers capping out at 99 feet. By stopping short of 100 feet, the company avoided having to open its plans to public scrutiny -- a process that can delay or stymie a project -- and instead needed only to pay a few hundred dollars and pick up a handful of administrative documents.
The situation prompted commissioners to put their collective foot down.
"They're an eyesore, and they're unnecessary," said Commissioner Charles Jones, who has led the charge against a proliferation of towers in rural areas. "A 99-foot tower is just as much of an eyesore as a 100-foot tower."
Just what the new regulations will look like remains unclear.
Commissioners acknowledge they must allow companies to install communications towers to meet their needs. Commissioners also know that companies are responsible for locating their equipment on existing towers or structures whenever feasible, thereby reducing the effects on the visual environment.
The moratorium on unpermitted towers -- companies still can win approval for a tower of any height, provided the plan goes through the formal review process -- will be in effect until June 30, as officials search for a middle ground.
"This allows us to explore the issue," said Craig Weinaug, county administrator.
Don Fuston isn't surprised.
Fuston recalls the static heard from officials earlier this year, when he leased some of his land for an AT&T; Wireless tower northwest of Lawrence. The site is at the southwest corner of the Farmers Turnpike and the South Lawrence Trafficway, adjacent to a water tower for Rural Water District No. 6 and within a half mile of two other communications towers.
The new monopole reaches only about 70 feet into the air, Fuston said, and is not illuminated. The Federal Aviation Administration requires lights only on towers at least 100 feet tall.
|AT&T; Wireless avoided public hearings and secured permission to install communications towers at these three Douglas County locations, after stipulating that the towers wouldn't reach any higher than 99 feet:¢ 868 U.S. Highway 40, at the northwest corner of the highway and the South Lawrence Trafficway.¢ 847 N. 1800 Road, at the southwest corner of the trafficway and the Farmers Turnpike.¢ 1723 E. 1500 Road, southeast of the Kansas Turnpike's East Lawrence interchange.|
"It's like a big flagpole," said Fuston, who reports hearing no complaints from neighbors since the pole went up. "I think it looks beautiful, myself."
While commissioners may not appreciate the view -- Commissioner Jere McElhaney said having towers so close together made little sense -- other county officials apparently have found the site somewhat attractive.
That's because the county is scheduled to install emergency communications equipment on the monopole in the coming weeks, Fuston said.
"They're barking up the wrong tree," he said of commissioners. "That's biting the hand that feeds you."