Following the threat of litigation by a Verizon attorney during a special meeting Jan. 22, Rehoboth Beach commissioners have decided to move forward with the communication company’s proposed design for its 16 wireless antennas on the Boardwalk.
Looking to meet growing demand, Verizon submitted an application to the city in August for the installation of more than a dozen 5G antennas on the Boardwalk. The design of the antennas was unknown to the public until it was part of an October application to the state's Division of Watershed Stewardship requesting to place the antennas seaward of the state’s building line. The design includes a ring of antennas below the light globe on top of the pole, which prompted two city committees and members of the public to ask commissioners to reevaluate the design because of concerns related to shadows on the Boardwalk at night. Mayor Stan Mills scheduled the special meeting soon afterward.
During the meeting, Verizon attorney Megan Riley said the company has worked in good faith for many months on the design. However, she said, the federal government requires a decision to be made on an application within 60 days of submission, unless the application is found to be materially incomplete.
“We’re getting to the point where we are being prevented from providing service to our customers, and the timeframe has become a very big deal to us,” said Riley.
Verizon representative Bonnie Metz said the company is anxious to move forward with installation and Rehoboth would be one of the first cities in the state with the 5G technology. She said the window for approval by the city has long since expired.
Metz said there’s a 16-week turnaround on manufacturing the poles. At this point, Verizon needs to move forward with the design, she said.
Public Works Director Kevin Williams said city staff was working under direction to get the poles as close in design as possible to the light poles that are currently on the Boardwalk. The poles are the same height and within an inch of the same width at the top and bottom, he said, adding the company is now asking for 16 antennas instead of the original 18.
They’re pretty darn close, said Williams about the design.
The city installed a number of security cameras on the Boardwalk recently, and Williams said the impact of the shadow from the cameras is negligible.
Williams said other wireless providers have indicated their willingness to use the same light pole design once one is officially agreed upon. He said the idea of co-location doesn’t mean two different wireless providers on the same pole; it means one provider installing an antenna on an existing utility pole.
In addition to the potential safety issue, Mayor Stan Mills said he would have liked the antennas to be on the western edge of the Boardwalk. However, he said that ship has sailed and would require a total reset.
Commissioner Pat Coluzzi said the design of the Boardwalk antennas was an important decision, but she also didn’t have an appetite for litigation. She doesn’t want the city to say no only to be told yes anyway.
Commissioner Richard Byrne is the chair of the city’s Environment Committee, which submitted a letter of support for Dark Skies lighting on the Boardwalk prior to the meeting. He said litigation would be a lose-lose for everyone.
Commissioner Patrick Gossett suggested commissioners look at modifying code to require Dark Skies technology. Let’s prepare for the 17th pole, he said.
Michael Strange, a Rehoboth Beach property owner and planning commission member, has been a regular critic of the poles installed locally and encouraged the city to make the company work toward a better design.
The current proposal is pretty good, but not as good as it could be, he said.
Commissioners didn’t take a formal vote to move forward with the proposed design; rather, no one made a motion to stop moving forward.
The time frame for installation of the Boardwalk antennas is unknown at this point, but Verizon does want them installed for summer 2021.