Milton Planning and Zoning Commission, by a 5-2 vote, gave preliminary approval on a special permitted use for Verizon to build a 140-foot-tall cellphone tower at the town’s public works yard on Front Street.
The planners will hold a second vote at an undetermined date on a formal written decision clarifying the commission’s opinion. Verizon, doing business as Cellco Partnership, required a special permitted use because the land the tower would be located on is zoned R-1 residential.
The two no votes at the commission’s Feb. 16 meeting came from commissioners Lynn Ekelund and Don Mazzeo, who both opposed on multiple grounds, including the aesthetics of putting a cell tower in the waterfront district near a prominent entrance to town, and whether a public utility could even be built in a residential district.
A special permitted use is spelled out in the town’s zoning code, with the purpose and intent being “to allow the proper integration into the community of uses which may be suitable only under certain conditions and at appropriate locations.” The commission is given the authority to permit, permit with conditions, or not permit a requested special permitted use based on a series of findings.
Those findings include whether the proposed use is good for the community, that it will not create excessive public costs, that it generally conforms with the town’s comprehensive plan, that the use is accessible for emergency services such as police and fire protection, and that the use will not be hazardous to pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
In the case of the tower, the commission was also guided by the zoning code’s regulations on antennas, towers and satellite dishes, which specifies that any apparatus used for transmitting signals for commercial purposes is reviewed on a case-by-case basis by planning and zoning, which will determine whether the tower would be a benefit to the community.
The tower would be in a 50-by-50-foot fenced area, with a pathway allowing for emergency access. The majority of the commission viewed the tower as a benefit for the town in that it would provide better cellphone coverage.
“It’s not just Verizon, although that will be benefiting from this particular tower. To build this would improve service for all. Right now, our cell coverage is abysmal,” Chairman Richard Trask said.
Ekelund and Mazzeo were the most vocal in opposition to the tower.
“We’re supposed to be protecting the surrounding areas of the neighborhood and doing things in the best interests of the town. I don’t believe this tower – there – is the best place for it,” Mazzeo said.
Mazzeo said the tower is located in the marine development district, which the town plans on redeveloping into a park once the new Tidewater wastewater treatment plant is built on Sam Lucas Road.
“It’s a great idea, not the right location,” he said.
“I feel very strongly about that location being part of the gateway into town. We’ve been waiting forever for that sewer plant to move off Front Street. I frankly don’t want a big cellphone tower there. I just think it’s an inappropriate location,” Ekelund said.
Trask said the technology requires Verizon to locate the tower in town, where it can provide the best coverage town-wide. Those in favor of the tower said there aren’t any good alternative locations within town that can provide the same kind of coverage, and that the commission should not be guided by where they want it to be located but by the language of the zoning code.
While the commission has not set a date on final approval of the permit, the soonest it could be voted on is Tuesday, March 16, when the commission is next scheduled to meet.