Milton cell tower appeal heads to Superior Court

Town files motion to dismiss case
June 17, 2023

The battle over a proposed cellphone tower in downtown Milton is headed to Delaware Superior Court.

Milton resident Steve Crawford has filed an appeal of the final site-plan approval granted in April to Verizon by the Milton Planning and Zoning Commission. Crawford’s grounds for appeal are that the approval did not comply with due process requirements as spelled out in the town’s charter when the town executed a land-lease agreement without public input. For this reason, he argues, the land-lease agreement and the final site-plan approval should be voided. 

Verizon is seeking to build a 140-foot tower on town-owned land at 210 Front St., which is currently the town public works yard. The cell tower has been a controversial issue in Milton dating back to March 2019, when Verizon officials first announced plans to build a facility. At the time, Verizon officials said mounting an antenna on an existing structure, such as a water tower, would not produce the desired coverage. 

Verizon was granted a special-use permit in March 2021, which was appealed by resident Barry Goodinson a month later. Council affirmed the permit in August 2021. Preliminary site plans were approved by planning and zoning in November 2021. That approval was also appealed, this time by resident Allan Benson. Town council again ruled in Verizon’s favor.

Crawford said the Front Street property is in a floodplain area and an area the town’s comprehensive development plan envisions as a tourist and resident-friendly gateway to town. In addition, he said, town code restricts a public or private utility system in the floodplain. 

According to documents Crawford acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request, he said Verizon initially wanted to use the Chandler Street water tower to improve cell service. However, he said, the town opppsed the idea and offered the current location on Front Street. 

Crawford said from the time Verizon made its first presentation to town council in March 2019 until December 2019, when the land-lease agreement for the Front Street property was executed, there were no public hearings on the agreement. 

Meanwhile, the town, represented by attorney Scott Wilcox, filed a motion to dismiss the case on multiple grounds. First, that Crawford failed to name the proper party, that the land-lease agreement complied with due process requirements as it was publicly noticed and conducted at a public meeting, and Crawford’s appeal time is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. 

Wilcox argues that, generally, if Crawford was appealing the land-lease agreement, it would need to be filed within 30 days of council approval. In this case, the land-lease agreement was approved in December 2019 and the appeal was not filed until April 2023. The motion says there are no exceptional circumstances to warrant Crawford waiting so long to file his appeal. 

Finally, Wilcox argues that challenging any decisions of the planning and zoning commission would require the inclusion of Verizon to the action and that Crawford did not exhaust all his administrative remedies by not appealing first to town council before the court. For all those reasons, the town is arguing that the appeal should be dismissed. With that, the town is allowing its legal filings to do the talking. 

Mayor John Collier said, “I reserve the right to comment once the matter is resolved in the courts.”


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