OCEAN CITY — A height increase for two towers at a prominent Boardwalk condominium building was passed this week in order to install equipment that will help ensure cell phone coverage and Internet access throughout the downtown area.
During Tuesday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Dan Rowland of Smartlink LLC presented a plan to expand the height of two towers at Belmont Towers by 10 feet each in order to allow the company to install cellular equipment previously housed on the water tower at Worcester Street, which will soon be taken down.
Rowland told the planning commission on Tuesday that Smartlink had equipment installed on the Worcester Street water tower for its client AT&T, but with the tower soon to be removed, the company was exploring other options. The only other structure in the downtown area with the height to accommodate the equipment was Belmont Towers along the Boardwalk at Talbot Street.
“AT&T has equipment on that water tower at Worcester Street, but has known it will come down eventually,” he said. “For a year and a half, we have been searching for a site to accommodate the equipment and we have been working with Belmont Towers on a proposal.”
Rowland explained two of the prominent towers at Belmont Towers would have to be raised by 10 feet to accommodate the equipment installation. The preliminary plan was to just install the equipment on the outside of the towers, but a new plan would allow the towers to be raised by 10 feet to accommodate the equipment inside without changing the overall appearance of the structures.
“Belmont Towers is the only building that height in the downtown area,” he said. “We need that height to cover the Boardwalk and the people up and down the beach in the south end of Ocean City. The other option is the new water tower, but because of its location on the bayside, there could be few drops in the coverage area.”
Rowland said the proposal has tacit approval from the Belmont Towers condominium association board and AT&T has signed off on it because it meets their height needs. However, the planning commission needed to sign off on the proposal because of the height changes. The towers would be raised from 102 feet to 112 feet.
“It does add to the height, but it keeps the clean look of the towers,” he said. “If you were driving into Ocean City, you wouldn’t necessarily notice the difference.”
When asked if the increased height would have any impact on neighboring properties or the beach and Boardwalk, for example, Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith said the change would be minimal.
“I don’t believe it would negatively impact the shadow,” he said. “We did an original shadow study when the project was first built and it didn’t have any problems.”
Rowland explained the increased height and the associated equipment were required to ensure adequate coverage for AT&T customers in the south end of Ocean City. At least one planning commission member questioned if the proposal risked setting a precedent for similar requests in the future.
“Do we allow this because it is a public utility or do we do this because it’s a benefit to the community?” said Commission member Peck Miller. “I’m just a little concerned we’re setting a precedent for other utilities all over the city.”
Nonetheless, the planning commission voted unanimously to endorse the proposed height extension by 10 feet at the Belmont Towers.