Concerns about growing cell phone use are prompting a central Indiana county to crack down on cell phone towers to protect the landscape, residents and property values.
The Johnson County Board of Commissioners has approved rules requiring that companies must prove there's a need for a tower. That includes proving that a gap exists in cell coverage before placing a tower in a residential area and showing that the company looked at other locations. In addition, towers built in residential areas must be surrounded by fences or trees and cannot have signs, the Daily Journal of Franklin reported.
Johnson County currently has about 40 towers, which range in height from 100 to 300 feet. But commissioner John Price says wireless companies likely will want to build more and put them closer to homes.
"If you look at it, cell phone use has quadrupled," Price said. "I was in a meeting the other day where six of 10 people didn't have a land line because they only used their cell phones. It's really taken off, and they'll need more towers to keep up."
Under the old policy, cell towers could be built only on land that's zoned for agricultural, industrial or business use. But wireless companies still could build on residential property if the board of zoning appeals gave them permission, planning director Bryan Pohl said.
County rules prohibit cell towers from being built within 1.8 miles of a residence.
Pohl said the new rules will require a stricter review process that offers more protection for property owners.
The new rules come as the county faces a federal lawsuit filed by AT&T Mobility for denying its request to build a tower in the Center Grove area. The zoning board rejected the tower because it would have been built 50 feet from the road, instead of the required 150 feet. AT&T is asking a federal court to overturn that decision and allow the tower to be built.
Price said the county didn't make the changes because of the lawsuit but wants its rules to be clear and consistent.
"We hope this will give some more protection to property owners," he said.