Erosion concerns delay decision on Cape Elizabeth cellular tower

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The “race” between Crown Castle Towers and Strout Trusts and Tower Specialists to build a new telecommunications tower continued this week.

In a Dec. 19 meeting, the Planning Board tabled a site plan review submitted by Crown Castle, a Virginia-based provider of wireless infrastructure. The tower is proposed for property owned by Jordan Farm at 19 Wells Road. 

The proposed 180-foot structure would include a 5,600-square-foot equipment compound enclosed by an 8-foot-tall chain-link fence.

The board asked Crown Castle to come back for site plan review on Jan. 16, 2018, after engineering firm Sebago Technics confirms that they’ve satisfied concerns about stormwater drainage and erosion control on the property.

Board Chairman Joseph Chalat said he has no doubt Crown Castle can satisfy the requests, but feels they should be addressed before granting site plan approval. 

Challenging Crown Castle is Strout Trusts and Tower Specialists, which is proposing to build a 180-foot tower at 14 Strout Road. 

One other tower is already on that property and one is being built after Strout 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, owned by Crown Castle, will be removed in 2019, since the company hopes to move equipment to the neighboring Jordan property.

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

The board tabled discussion of the Strout’s proposal earlier this month due to discrepancies in interpretation of the town’s requirement for “co-location on cell towers.” 

The town’s zoning 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.”

After several residents expressed concerns that the Planning Board would not be adhering to the ordinance if they approved another tower, board member Jonathan Sahrbeck said approving Crown Castle’s tower would not mean there would be another tower in town; the tower on Strout Road, he said, would simply be relocated to the abutting property on Jordan Road. 

“I see this as a wash and a need to continue with cell phone coverage on that side of town and beyond,” Sahrbeck said. “It’s simply a relocation.”

After their meeting with Justin Strout on Dec. 5, the board met with Town Attorney John Wall in executive session to discuss co-location.

On Tuesday, Wall said the co-location provision in the ordinance is meant to allow the town some measure of control over the number of towers erected. As Wall interpreted the ordinance, it is left to the board’s discretion to analyze and decide whether there is a need for additional towers. 

Crown Castle’s attorney, Victor Manougian, said the company has received letters of intent from Verizon and T-Mobile that they are willing to stay with the tower if approved, along with the Police and Fire departments. Crown is waiting to hear from AT&T about whether it would remain on the tower.

“(Depending on) whoever gets their tower up first with their tenants, once that’s up and we find additional carriers are needed, then it’s probably to the town’s benefit to have an additional tower,” Chalat said. “The market will control the number of towers that go up.” 

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

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