Home Latest Stories Ocean City to Restrict Location of Cellphone Towers, Antennas

Ocean City to Restrict Location of Cellphone Towers, Antennas

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James Harris, a homeowner on 33rd Street who objects to cellphone antennas in his neighborhood, displays a rendering of Verizon's plan during the City Council meeting on March 23.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Ocean City will control where cellphone towers and antennas are built in the future by restricting them to city property and on utility poles.

Voting 7-0, City Council introduced a new zoning ordinance Thursday night that would prohibit wireless towers and antennas from being built on private property. The ordinance is up for a public hearing and final vote at the May 11 Council meeting.

City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson told Council that the ordinance will allow cellphone towers and antennas to be built to provide wireless service in town, but puts “reasonable controls on where those facilities can be located.”

“It can’t be on private property,” she said.

By limiting the towers and antennas to public property, the city would directly oversee their location amid concerns about their possible health effects and being too close to residential neighborhoods.

Wireless towers and antennas would also be restricted to existing utility poles. A wireless carrier would not be allowed to add new utility poles in the city to accommodate more towers or antennas, McCrosson explained.

City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson, seated next to Mayor Jay Gillian, explains the proposed zoning ordinance for cellphone towers and antennas to City Council.

The ordinance was prompted by a neighborhood controversy involving cellphone antennas that are proposed on top of a privately owned commercial building at the corner of 34th Street and Haven Avenue.

Verizon Wireless is seeking approval from the Ocean City Planning Board to locate wireless antennas on the roof of the two-story real estate building at 3337-39 Haven Ave. amid strong opposition from neighboring homeowners.

However, McCrosson told Council that the proposed ordinance would not affect Verizon’s plan because it is an existing planning board application and, in effect, would be grandfathered in.

McCrosson said the city would be in position to turn down a construction permit for future towers or antennas if the wireless carrier did not comply with the new ordinance.

“Basically, we’re rectifying this problem before it happens again,” Councilwoman Karen Bergman said, alluding to the controversy involving the Verizon project.

Mayor Jay Gillian raised the possibility that the ordinance could be “tweaked” even more to strengthen the city’s enforcement powers.

According to plans, cellphone antennas would be placed on the roof of this two-story building at the corner of 34th Street and Haven Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Loop.Net.com)

The planning board is expected to vote on Verizon’s plan after it receives the findings of an independent engineering report that will look into the possible health impacts caused by radio frequency waves emitted by cellphone antennas.

A vote could come at the planning board’s next regularly scheduled meeting on May 3. Another possibility is for the board to schedule a special meeting sometime in late April.

Homeowners on 33rd and 34th streets along Haven and Simpson avenues appeared at two City Council meetings in March to urge the governing body to protect them from Verizon’s proposed antennas.

They expressed concerns that the antennas would disrupt their neighborhood and possibly expose them to potentially harmful levels of high-energy radio frequency waves emitted by the antennas.

“We don’t have any protection if they put them wherever they feel like it,” Steve Petrun, who lives at 33rd and Haven, said of Verizon’s antennas during public remarks at Council’s March 23 meeting.

McCrosson told the homeowners in March that City Council would not have any involvement in the Verizon project because it is being handled by the planning board.

During public remarks at the March 23 Council meeting, Gillian assured the homeowners that the city is researching the laws and is willing to extend whatever help it legally can with the cellphone antennas.

“We are doing everything we can,” he said.

Plans are unfolding to update the antiquated public safety building on Central Avenue.

In other business at Thursday’s meeting, Council approved the hiring of an architect to design the proposed renovation of the city’s public safety building at Eighth Street and Central Avenue.

In a related vote, Council hired Somers Point architect William McLees to also design a proposed police substation on the Boardwalk at Eighth Street.

The city is now moving forward with plans to renovate and modernize the more than century-old police headquarters after Council balked at the cost of Gillian’s earlier proposal to construct a new $42 million public safety building.

Gillian said the renovation project will be less expensive than building a new police headquarters, but no figures have been publicly announced yet.

“The designs are just the first step in what will be a long process, and more information will be available as they take shape,” he said in a statement.