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Officials waive fee for new wireless Internet company

The Sylva Herald & Ruralite of Sylva, North Carolina

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A new local wireless Internet company has been granted an exemption from the county's cell tower ordinance to get the ball rolling on providing high-speed service.

Commissioners voted unanimously Feb. 19 to allow SkyFi to forgo a $4,000 fee and public hearing. The ordinance currently requires both before construction of any towers can begin.

Earlier this month, Travis Lewis, vice president of SkyFi, asked commissioners for a waiver from the fee and hearing process. Commissioners directed Lewis to seek a recommendation from county planners prior to taking a vote. Lewis submitted the tower proposals to Planning Director Gerald Green who said Feb. 19 that cell towers are typically more complex than wireless Internet towers and reviewing them takes a substantial amount of time and work. The fee written into the ordinance is designed to cover that process, along with the cost of any outside consultants hired during the review.

Planning board members are currently working on a new cell tower ordinance to be presented to commissioners in the coming months. Green said the new proposed cell tower ordinance's restrictions would not apply to broadband Internet towers.

SkyFi's initial plans are to build towers at the airport, Kings Mountain and Cowee Bald. Service could then expand from there, with more towers added around the county.

In place of the fee, Lewis will provide free Internet to county emergency services and to pilots stationed at the airport. SkyFi has also agreed to pay the county $3 per month on every account served from one of the towers, with that deal subject to renegotiation in five years, in exchange for having the towers on county property. The Kings Mountain and airport towers would both be located on county-owned property. The Cowee site is on property owned by the U.S. Forest Service.

In regards to waiving the public hearing process, Green said it would not lessen the technical review process when it comes to building the tower structures, it would simply get'rid of the lengthy and complicated "quasi-judicial review" from commissioners.

Lewis previously expressed frustration with how slow things have been moving. For now, it appears Lewis and commissioners have cut through some of the red tape.

Commissioners' Chairman Brian McMahan said he is hopeful that a more organized timeline for completion of the towers and some of the other steps still to come will be presented to the board in March.

In other business, commissioners:

Voted unanimously to approve various fee changes at Ralph J. Andrews Park to account for electrical and plumbing upgrades.

The main change is an increase of $3 to the park's daily fee for out-of-county visitors.

The original proposal called for an increase for all visitors, including those who live in Jackson County. Commissioner Boyce Deitz made the suggestion to increase the rate for only non-local residents.

Commissioners also voted unanimously to allow retired county staff and their families to receive a membership discount at the two recreation centers - the same discount that current county employees are afforded.

Voted unanimously to approve a slight adjustment in the Cashiers commercial area development ordinance. The amendment will change the language in a section regarding kennels to align with the county's noise ordinance.

Voted unanimously to appoint Sarah Thompson as chairman of the planning board and Scott Baker as vice chairman. Thompson is a former Sylva town board member; at that time her name was Sarah Graham.

Voted unanimously to re-appoint Kristina Kiska to a three-year term to the Region A Aging Advisory Council.

Voted unanimously to re-appoint David Nolan, Hart Goodson, Richard Robson, Robert Edwards and Gail Cooper to the Board of Equalization and Review, with Cooper serving as chairman and Edwards serving as vice chairman.

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Original Publication Date: February 26, 2015

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