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Carolina Beach Council Approves 150' Cell Tower Off Dow Road

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture: The Carolina Beach Town Council approved an application to locate a 150' cell tower at 202 South Dow Road at their August 14, meeting.

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CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council approved a request for a conditional use permit to locate a 150' foot tall cellular communications tower at 202 Dow Road behind a mini-storage business.
The public hearing was uneventful. The applicant, Optima Towers, presented their plans showing photos depicting a minor visual impact on the community and outlining a lengthy process of receiving approvals from the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration, State wildlife and historic preservation agencies and even five Indian tribes located throughout the state.
Ultimately the issue of height and a new ordinance governing cell towers that was to begin the following day generated much discussion.
No one spoke in opposition to the permit request during a public hearing. Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said, "It appears we facilitated your application and kept it moving forward even though we were in the process of reviewing a new ordinance. According to the Town Manager you are willing to come back when you have carriers and meet the guidelines of the new ordinance."
Last month the Council adopted a new Wireless Telecommunications Facilities ordinance that will take affect August 15, the day at the Tuesday meeting.
The Council also contracted with the Center for Municipal Solutions (CMS) to handle review of all such applications for towers.
The Council was told the applicant, Optima Towers, would be considered under the existing ordinance on August 14, but if the permit were approved for the tower, it could not be built until a provider such as Sprint, Verizon or AT&T meets the new ordinance.
Shuttleworth explained, "It was presented to us last month that the body that is going to oversee those applications suggested that line-of-sight is not necessarily how everything is done these days and I think it was 20 feet above the tree level. Are you stuck on a 150' feet?"
Jonathan Yates of Optima Towers explained, "My understanding, we would hopefully approve the tower tonight as a conditional use and then when the carriers were ready, the tower can not be built until the carriers goes through" the review process.
Yates said they need the 150' height because they designed for five carriers.
Shuttleworth said, "The experts we hired for the Town to review the ordinance... told us in fact height it not everything and 20 feet above the tree line is where the going market is."
Yates said that's not true because they designed for five carriers and the bottom carrier wants to be above the tree line because of interference. With 10 feet of separation for five carriers, "I absolutely need the 150'."
Shuttleworth said, "So if you get approval tonight and you have to come back through the" permit process, "and we limit your height later you're going to argue that you already got 150' approval."
Yates said, "I know your consultant, I actually like him, but I will argue with him on anything about limiting it to 20' above tree level particularly in coastal North Carolina."
He said in other Towns such as Charleston South Carolina, they approve larger towers at the staff level requiring no Council approval.
They encourage co-location on such towers to reduce the number of towers required to meet the growing demand for cellular communications.
Yates said once the tower is approved, the carriers would have to show under the new ordinance to CMS why they require location on that site providing needed coverage.
Shuttleworth said they were told by CMS towers do not require going above 20' over the tree line. Yates strongly disagreed with the CMS position on height.
Yates said, "That's not the way we understood it. It's sort of silly that we've gone through this entire process, we spent a year, it's not fair. I came here tonight. I met every single rule that you put before me, that the federal government put before me.
If you have a new ordinance starting tomorrow, that's fine. And my co-locators, they'll have to show need" for service in the area, "but to say we are negotiating again on the height, that's not what I bargained for."
He said the carriers should not have to go through future height debates and a tortuous process.
Yates said, "The game is not to have an ordinance that says, gee, you have an approved tower but maybe you could go on top of the Marriott. The carriers, when they see that a tower has been approved they will come and provide the coverage. That's what they're looking forward."
He said rather than playing that game, the carriers will go elsewhere.
Council member Sarah Friede said that CMS represented to Council last month it would be 20' above the tree line in that area.
The Council was evidently less than satisfied with the process taken to hire CMS and the issues of the overlapping ordinances.
The Council voted unanimously to approve of the conditional use permit for Optima and exempt them from the new ordinance requirements permitting a height of 150'.