Motion To Revoke Tower Approval Denied

OCEAN CITY – Following a somewhat terse debate, resort officials did not approve a motion that would have revoked the approval of nine small-scale cell towers in certain north-end residential neighborhoods.

In what was a slight breach of etiquette, Councilman Tony DeLuca during the council comments section of Monday’s meeting made a motion to revoke the Mayor and Council’s approval last month of nine small-scale cell towers in north-end residential areas. The motion was seconded by Councilman Matt James. It was learned during the same part of the meeting the Town of Ocean City has joined other municipalities around the country facing the same issues in a federal suit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which affords wireless communication companies the authority to place the towers were the demand required them with or without local approval.

In December, representatives of the private-sector company Crown Castle announced a proposal to install small-cell towers in certain north-end residential neighborhoods in the interest of improving wireless data service. Last month, a divided council approved the siting of nine new small cell towers in the north-end residential neighborhoods after it was learned the company was within their purview to do so under current FCC regulations.

After DeLuca made his motion on Monday to reverse those approvals, City Manager Doug Miller explained the town’s opposition was now proceeding on two parallel tracks, including joining the federal lawsuit against the FCC ruling.

“We’ve done two things,” he said. “We have entered as a party in a lawsuit that’s trying to overturn the FCC regulations that basically usurp all of our local authority on these types of installations. I don’t know where that will go, but it’s being actively pursued in federal court.”

Miller explained the town’s secondary effort revolved around pending legislation in the Maryland General Assembly on the same issues.

“The second thing is, the communications industry wants to further dilute our powers over land ownership, property rights and local zoning in the legislature and we are working with the Maryland Municipal League to try to thwart that,” he said.

Mayor Rick Meehan said he has been following the legislation in the General Assembly and voiced some concerns.

“I spoke to our MML representative last week and he is very concerned about the industry trying to strip even more power from us and make it easier for them to put these towers basically wherever they want,” he said. “There is legislation that would solidify the control we have today not to eliminate them, but to control them. Those things are ongoing and if you are looking to wait until we get some results from those efforts, I think it’s probably a good idea.”

In terms of DeLuca’s somewhat abrupt motion on Monday to reverse the council’s approval of the nine cell towers, Councilman Dennis Dare and Council Secretary Mary Knight said they could not support the motion because of protocol issues.

“I really think it’s inappropriate to bring this up in the comments section of the meeting when we don’t have staff here that is intimately familiar with these issues,” he said. “It belongs in a work session if you want to revisit it, but not bringing it up like this.”

For his part, James said he too had some concerns about the apparent breach in protocol, but supported the motion anyway.

“I seconded the motion because I believe we have a policy in place,” he said. “I know we’ve deviated slightly from it, but we hear a lot from our residents and there are concerns. I wasn’t prepared to talk about this tonight and I was a little surprised by the motion, but I do support the motion if for no other reason than to deny them until we here back on some of these other actions going on.”

Councilman John Gehrig said he agreed with holding back on the approvals until the legislative remedies ran their course.

“We’ve discussed this a lot,” he said. “This is not a new topic. There is no harm in waiting here.”

It got a little chippy when James pointed out Councilman Mark Paddack approved small cell towers in Caine Keys II where he lives, but there was no tower in front of his own home.

“Councilman Paddack approved the towers for his neighborhood, but you don’t see on of them in front of his house,” he said.

Paddack responded he had no concerns about the towers and would welcome one in front of his home if Crown Castle believed it was a good location.

“I have transmission boxes and telephone poles up and down my whole street,” he said. “I don’t care if I had a cellphone node in front of my house because I’m not convinced the scientific data says they can cause cancer. So, don’t ever say ‘in front of my house’ again because I would say put one there if you need to.”

After more debate, the council voted 3-2-2 on DeLuca’s motion, with DeLuca, James and Gehrig in favor, Paddack and Council President Lloyd Martin opposed and Dare and Knight abstaining. As such, the motion did not pass.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.