A new way to boost cellphone signals is becoming increasingly popular in Indiana, and Johnson County officials are looking at how it should be regulated.
Traditional cellular towers loom a couple of hundred feet overhead, but new ones built in Greenwood and proposed in the Center Grove area stand about 30 to 40 feet tall. Instead of bringing in new signals, these small cell towers, which resemble utility poles, amplify the signals from existing towers to provide better cellphone and internet service.
With no regulations currently on the books for this technology, Johnson County is considering putting height limits on these repeater poles and restricting how close they can be built to each other.
Zayo, a contractor for Verizon, received approval from the Johnson County Board of Zoning Appeals to build two of the repeater poles near Center Grove High School. Approval for three more poles along Fairview Road at Leisure Lane, Tara Circle and Morgantown Road intersections is pending. County officials have requested further documentation about the plans and are waiting for a response before the next meeting.
One question county officials asked Zayo is whether the repeater nodes have to be placed on top of new poles or can instead be added on top of other utility poles in the area.
Zayo’s plan is to bring about a dozen repeater poles to the Center Grove area.
The challenge the county faces it that it doesn’t have any regulations on how or where these poles can be constructed, Johnson County planning director David Hittle said.
That needs to change, he said.
“We don’t want to open the doors and not have any restrictions or regulations,” Hittle said.
While the highway department can’t deny a right-of-way permit for a utility, such as communication service providers, land use rules still must be followed, which gives the county some ability to regulate the poles, Hittle said.
The proposed rules would set a maximum height for repeater poles and prevent them from being built too close to each other. The poles would be capped at a height of about 45 feet and would need to be at least a half-mile apart. The Johnson County Board of Commissioners will consider the new rules at its Nov. 14 meeting.
Several residents raised concerns about the proposal for the repeater pole near the Fairview Road and Leisure Lane intersection, said Jim Long, a former county commissioner who lives in the Carefree subdivision off Fairview Road.
That intersection, which is a four-way stop, is already a dangerous one, especially in the winter, Long said.
The original proposed location of the pole would have placed it close to a stop sign in a spot where cars could easily have veered off the road and struck it, he said.
In response to those concerns, county officials have told Zayo that the pole would need to be constructed about 300 feet west of the intersection, on the west side of the railroad tracks.
The location change was requested to get the pole away from a busy intersection and subdivision entrance, Johnson County senior planner Desiree Calderella said.
Long said he is glad to see the county is implementing that change, which he recommended, but that the county should include a rule regarding how far away these poles have to be from the street.