Council rejects cell towers on OC BoardwalkTo improve service during summer, one dozen 70-ft. poles required on boards
(April 14, 2017) The Ocean City Council this week shot down a proposal from Crown Castle, a mobile operator company that is currently installing cell towers throughout the island, that would involve installing new poles downtown and on the Boardwalk.
The proposal included 19 cell towers in all, 12 of which would be spaced out every three blocks on the boards. The remaining seven would be placed on the streets between Baltimore Avenue and Philadelphia Avenue, with a majority on side streets. Both towers would be 20 feet tall and would increase cell coverage in a 500-foot radius. Each would also have a four-foot tall utility box, with the Boardwalk units placed on the ground and the street units mounted on the poles to meet ADA requirements.
Since Crown Castle is a public utility company, it has the legal authority to install in public rights-of-way, but also must negotiate with the city.
Crown Castle representative Nathan Campbell said these cell towers are necessary to meet the needs of the quarter-million people who visit downtown Ocean City every summer.
“The purpose of the Boardwalk poles is not for October through April, it’s for May through September and the resulting surge,” Campbell told the council Tuesday. He added that it was not possible to consolidate the cell towers into larger locations off the boards. “You’re looking at 70-foot poles, because you just don’t need to get over the distance, but the buildings in between. The signal is going to diffuse as it spreads.”
Councilman Wayne Hartman quickly made a motion to reject the proposal and to ask Crown Castle to provide a better solution, citing the sight pollution it would create.
“Right now on the Boardwalk, when you look down, you see a lane of lights. [This] would be so out of place and noticeable,” he said. “A few years ago, we also spent millions of dollars to eliminate the utilities on Baltimore Avenue.”
He received backing from Council Secretary Mary Knight, who called the Boardwalk poles and utility boxes unattractive. Councilman Matt James put it in blunter terms.
“I think they’re ugly,” James said. “If they’re strictly for the Boardwalk, can it be under the Boardwalk so you don’t see them?”
“If you ‘underboard’ this, you’re just going to [provide coverage] for the space between the boards and the sand,” Campbell answered. “The radio frequency is not robust and can’t shoot through a couple inches of wood.”
He did offer to camouflage the utility boxes through artwork or wraps if necessary. Although he was against Boardwalk cell towers altogether, Mayor Rick Meehan suggested installing them on the west end to provide additional lighting.
Councilman Dennis Dare raised concerns about the possibility that this proposal could lead to other public utility companies clamoring to come in Ocean City.
In January, the council approved a right-of-way agreement that allowed Crown Castle to install 90 cell towers throughout the island because they were necessary to cater to the tourism market. As part of the agreement, no poles were to be erected in residential districts and the city would receive 5 percent gross revenue from the cell service.
“It appears to me that the initial installation didn’t give complete coverage, so we have another round of poles to fill it, which makes me think this is going to be an ongoing issue,” Dare said. “When AT&T has coverage issues, we’re going to see another company come in a put in a hundred poles. I think the issue will snowball … for cell companies.”
Campbell countered that Crown Castle’s equipment can hold multiple cell carriers, and this second proposed round was at AT&T’s request, since Verizon felt it did not need the Boardwalk towers.
He added that the purpose of the additional cell towers was not to provide coverage, but to augment the current service.
“With 500 people per half square mile, this would allow those networks not to be overloaded with traffic,” Campbell said.
Mayor Rick Meehan backed rejecting the proposal, especially of the Boardwalk poles.
“I understand that the demand … but I can’t imagine how we provided cell service before if we need all these additional cell towers,” he said.
“We hope you understood our concerns,” Meehan said. “If we don’t take this position today, we’re going to look back and ask ourselves why.”