Milton resident files challenge against cellphone tower decision

Town council to review special-use permit process
April 23, 2021

A former member of the Milton Planning and Zoning Commission has filed a formal challenge to the commission’s decision to grant a special permitted use for Verizon to build a 140-foot cellphone tower at the town’s public works yard on Front Street.

Barry Goodinson, a resident of Mill Street, has challenged the commission’s decision on two grounds: first, that the proposed location is in a Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain and is prohibited to be built there by town code, and that a tower on the Front Street site is in opposition to the goals and spirit of the town’s comprehensive development plan. The challenge serves as an appeal to Milton Town Council regarding the commission’s decision.

The planned tower was approved Feb. 16 by planning and zoning with a 5-2 margin. Verizon representatives have stated that the tower’s location would provide better service and coverage throughout town for Verizon customers. Mayor Ted Kanakos said Verizon tested locations prior to applying for the special permitted use and found that the Front Street location provided the best coverage. He said the question of whether the town’s water towers would be a suitable location was examined, but Verizon determined that the towers were not high enough. 

As the special permitted use process moved along, citizens spoke out opposing the location and the aesthetics of the cell tower at an entrance to town. For an idea of what a cell tower looks like, AT&T has a tower outside downtown Milton on land adjacent to Dogfish Head and Cannery Village that is visible from Sam Lucas Road. 

Councilman John Collier, the former town project manager, said Milton was accepted in 1978 into the National Flood Insurance Program, which is run by FEMA and helps insure flood damages and set floodplain management standards for municipalities. 

“In order for the town to remain in the program, it was required to institute floodplain regulations,” Collier said. “These regulations describe the minimum requirements for said regulatory code and further describe the sanctions for failure to adequately enforce these regulations.”

Milton has its own floodplain ordinance in its code that is above the minimum requirements mandated by FEMA, which also requires a review and update of the code whenever flood insurance rate maps are amended, Collier said. 

Pertinent to the Verizon tower is a section of town code stating that no new private-public utility system can be located within a special floodplain area. In its written decision approving the tower, the commission made a condition where the permitted use “must meet and receive all applicable approvals under the town’s floodplain management regulations.”

Town Solicitor Seth Thompson said, by code, Project Coordinator Thomas Quass is designated as the floodplain administrator responsible for reviewing applications to determine whether they are applicable to the town’s floodplain ordinance. Milton Town Council also has the authority to review public and private utility systems, plus Verizon will have to submit plans for site-plan review to be approved by planning and zoning prior to building. 

But in his appeal, Goodinson argues the special permitted use, required because the land is zoned R-1 residential, should not have been approved because it violates the floodplain ordinance, a fact he says Thompson hid from the commission until late in the process. He said building in the floodplain could compromise the town’s ability to get flood insurance in that area. 

Goodinson said the comprehensive plan envisions the Front Street area as a gateway to the town, especially once Tidewater moves the wastewater treatment plant out to Sam Lucas Road and the old plant is demolished. He said the town has also been contemplating moving the public works yard out to Sam Lucas Road. Goodinson said despite all this, the commission went ahead and approved the special-use permit anyway. 

“People put a lot of time and effort into the comprehensive plan, and they are just completely ignoring it,” he said.

Goodinson’s property abuts the public works yard, but he said his opposition is not a case of “not in my backyard”; he knew the public works yard was there already and willingly purchased a home with clear views of the yard and the wastewater plant. Goodinson said his opposition comes because the tower violates town code and the spirit of the comprehensive plan, which he worked on. He said he is not opposed to improving cell service in town, in fact he welcomes it, but building a tower at the Front Street site is not the best or only way to solve the problem. 

“It is clear that the Milton Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval of a cell tower at 210 Front St. violates town code, town goals and common sense. It is therefore the responsibility of the mayor and town council to correct this error,” he wrote in his appeal. 

Milton Town Council has not yet set a date for when it will hear an appeal. The next possible date is council’s Monday, May 3 meeting. 


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