Cape Elizabeth planners wrestle with cell tower demand

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Planning Board is seeking legal clarification before it decides whether a third telecommunications tower should be allowed along Strout Road.

At issue is to what extent owners can be compelled to provide space on existing towers to competing service providers.

Strout Trusts and Tower Specialists want to build the 180-foot tower at 14 Strout Road. One other tower already exists on the property and one is being built after the Strouts received approval in September from the town to replace an existing 180-foot tower and four shorter towers with the single tower. 

Another tower, at the southern end of the property, is owned by Crown Castle Towers, a Virginia-based wireless infrastructure provider. It will be removed in 2019, since the company plans to move equipment to a new, 180-foot monopole tower on the neighboring Jordan property at 19 Wells Road.

If the application for the third 180-foot tower is submitted and approved, the Strout property would have three 180-foot towers, which is in the property site plan.  

But before the board views an official application from the Strouts, members asked to be provided with proof that a third tower is necessary and would improve coverage to nearby neighborhoods. 

Justin Strout told planners in a Dec. 5 workshop there is a “sweet spot” on telecommunication towers that provides the best coverage, and that carriers will pay more to have their equipment in this position.

“(A third tower) gives optimal cell coverage and gives me a financial advantage,” he said. 

Vice Chairman Joseph Chalat said the board will seek an interpretation of how the town’s “co-location” requirement – placement of multiple carriers on a single tower – comes into play. 

The ordinance says tower owners and users should allow “other commercial wireless telecommunication service providers using functionally compatible technology to co-locate antennas, equipment and facilities on a tower and site.”

In order to ensure co-location, the ordinance says the town may “require co-location on a tower in order to prevent the need for … providers to build new towers (and) may deny an application for a tower because of inadequate provisions and/or arrangements for co-location.”

“Until a few weeks ago,” Strout said, “the way I understood it was, you have one tower and everybody co-located on it. But it seems like the interpretation is different. We have multiple customers that would love to be at 180 feet … we’d like to do this so we can put everybody that wants to be at the top.”

Board member Jonathan Sahrbeck said he wants to make sure the law is being followed.

“I’m not seeing that the tower that you have been approved for, the second tower, is filled to the brim with cell phone carriers that it’s going to require you to build another 180-foot tower,” Sahrbeck said. “The whole idea of co-location is so we don’t have towers all over the place.”

Strout said he has agreed to co-location, if someone would like to be on the tower.

Board member Peter Curry noted that the ordinance only requires that co-location is offered, while member James Huebener added “you’ve got to really prove your case that (another tower) is going to make cell coverage better.”

The board told Strout to come back to a workshop with detailed maps, showing coverage by height of the towers on the property. Further discussion was tabled until members can hear from Town Attorney John Wall, which they expect to happen by Dec. 12.

Town Planner Maureen O’Meara said she doesn’t know how the Strouts would be able to meet standards of the ordinance without demonstrating a need for the tower. 

“It’s clear that you have to show need,” O’Meara said. “You already got approval for a 180-foot tower and now, you kind of need to show why you need another one and you need to show that you don’t have enough capacity on the first one.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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  • BlackBearNutCase

    All the worry about towers but not any concern about the Mc-Mansions that now line the waterfront in the Cape or the massive summer traffic that pollutes and congests the seaside air quality and traffic into former ‘ole lazy farm fields of long ago.