Mt. Juliet could see improved cellular service and emergency communications under a site plan the Wilson County Planning Commission approved at its meeting held Friday.

The Chattanooga-based Vogue Towers, LLC intends to build a cell tower at Mt. Juliet High School to serve as both a communications tower and lighting system. A pole currently used as a stadium light will be replaced for the project.

“The existing pole that’s roughly around 70 feet (will be replaced) with a 180 foot pole and (we’re) putting the lights back on it,” FPA Engineering Project Manager Michael Sandifer said. “Multiple carriers can access this location, it’s not any one carrier.”

In addition to cell service providers, the tower will have space to serve emergency responders like the local police and fire departments free of charge.

“It is going to help, more towers for emergency personnel,” Wilson County Commissioner Justin Smith, who also works for the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, said. “Whenever somebody puts in a radio system for any type of communication it actually costs a lot of money because of the infrastructure… I think that’s going to be an asset.”

The Planning Commission ultimately approved the site plan on the condition that the county receives the right to use the tower for emergency services.

“Vogue Towers allows emergency services and first responders to locate on the tower,” Sandifer said. “I would reinforce that if there is a need, to have them go ahead and contact Vogue Towers because there is some carrier interest, so if you wanted to be at a certain center line or height on the tower it’s better to go sooner than later.”

Although the Wilson County Planning Office reviewed the plans before the Planning Commission approved them, the school system is not actually required to go through that framework.

“Technically the school system doesn’t have to abide by any of our regulations or processes if they don’t wish to because they’re considered an equivalent jurisdiction by case law in the state of Tennessee,” Wilson County Planning Director Tom Brashear said. “As a courtesy, they have traditionally wanted to come through our process anyway. That’s what they’re doing here.”

One of the chief safety concerns discussed by county officials and the Wilson County Board of Education was the potential for weather conditions to displace the pole.

“When you put one of these in, there’s a fall radius so that nobody can be harmed if it falls,” Wilson County Attorney Mike Jennings said. “We’re now putting one of these in the middle of a 2,000-student school.”

Sandifer said the tower has been designed to split into parts and collapse on itself in the event of a wind shear.

“If a strong tornado hits directly on it, I can’t tell you what Mother Nature can do to it,” he said. “But I can tell you that theoretically, pure wind shear and straight force winds, it’s designed to do that. If you look at the results from Hurricane Michael last year, there were towers left standing and it did billions of dollars in damage.”

The Planning Commission also approved a request to rezone 23.21 acres of property on Murfreesboro Road from (A-1) Agricultural to (I-1) Light Industrial, sending it forward to the Wilson County Commission’s December meeting for a public hearing and final decision.

“The Wilson County Land Use Plan has no direction for this area to be zoned industrial, and all the immediately adjacent properties are zoned (A-1) Agricultural,” Brashear said, speaking in favor of denying the request. “Approving this request would be the first of its kind and set a precedent that we allow industrials on parcels in areas not outlined that way in the Wilson County Land Use Plan.”

Paul Crockett, who filed the application for rezoning on behalf of resident Eddie McCrary, noted the amount of commercial and industrial properties within a few miles of the location. Some of those, including Vulcan Materials Company, are designated as heavy industrial properties.

“We’re wanting to put a contractor’s office and equipment yard on the property,” Crockett said. “We don’t feel like this is an unreasonable request with what is in that 3-mile area out there today.”

The Wilson County Planning Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Dec. 20, at the Wilson County Courthouse located on 228 E. Main St. in Lebanon.

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