Milton Town Council upheld a ruling by the planning and zoning commission granting a special permitted use for Verizon to erect a 140-foot cellphone tower at the town’s public works yard on Front Street.
Council’s judgment, rendered Aug. 11, was really three decisions in one. The first was to uphold the planners’ decision to grant Verizon the permit, which passed by a 5-1 vote, with Councilwoman Randi Meredith as the only no. The second was to uphold the commission’s condition addressing the tower’s location in a floodplain area, which passed unanimously. Finally, council voted unanimously to deny the appeal brought by former Planning Commissioner Barry Goodinson.
While council rejected Goodinson’s appeal, several council members, including John Collier and Sam Garde, reiterated that this was not a yes to the tower itself, and that whether the tower gets built is still subject to the town’s site-plan review process. However, by the narrow rules of what council was there to consider – whether the commission made its decision in a logical and thorough manner – they could not reverse the decision.
Council, with the exception of Meredith, agreed that granting a special permitted use for the tower did not violate the spirit of the town’s comprehensive plan. Goodinson argued that the area on Front Street where the tower would be located was envisioned in the plan as a gateway to the town’s historic and commercial district.
Garde and Mayor Ted Kanakos said they were not aware of any plans to turn that area into any sort of gateway other than relocating the public works building to a site on Sam Lucas Road. Kanakos described the comprehensive plan’s ideas for that area “aspirational,” and said putting a tower at that site would not affect people’s enjoyment of the Broadkill River.
Collier said the comprehensive plan imagines what could be at that site but also calls for improved infrastructure services, which the tower would provide. Kanakos added that the tower would help improve emergency services in town by allowing for better cell service and wider coverage. Meredith said while the planning and zoning commission conducted an orderly and logical review, she did not believe the special permitted use was keeping in the spirit of the comprehensive plan.
In their decision granting a special permitted use, the planners put in a condition that stated plans for the tower must comply with all state and federal rules and regulations. For the council, this was good enough to uphold the decision regarding the tower being located in a Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain. Collier said issues regarding the floodplain would be addressed during site-plan review.
With those two issues settled, council denied Goodinson’s appeal and upheld the commission’s decision to grant the special-use permit. Only six council members voted on the matter, since Councilwoman Lee Revis-Plank recused herself from the appeal hearing. Council will have 60 days to put out a written decision of its findings.
Following the meeting, Goodinson said while he was disappointed, he wasn’t surprised by the decision.
“The way the question was framed – whether the planning and zoning commission considered the application in a legal and orderly manner – didn’t leave much room for the town council to consider other important issues. While I think the framing of the question in that way was a mistake, and in some ways determined the result from the outset, I respect and appreciate the serious consideration many members of the town council gave to the issue.”
He said he plans to raise his concerns about the tower during the commission’s site-plan review process.