Council OKs Higher Towers In Split Vote

OCEAN CITY — A divided council this week approved modifications to five small-scale cell towers in north-end residential areas to accommodate the growing demand for 5G service, but not before a larger debate about the proliferation of poles and other equipment.

The Mayor and Council had before them on Tuesday a seemingly innocuous request from private sector company Crown Castle to modify its equipment on five existing poles in north-end residential neighborhoods to meet the growing demand for 5G wireless service. For the record, Crown Castle installs small cell towers and nodes around the resort and contracts with various wireless providers to provide the service

The request on Tuesday was to modify the equipment on five existing poles in the Caine Woods and Little Salisbury neighborhoods. In some cases, the modifications included extending the existing cell nodes at the top of the poles higher to accommodate the higher demand for service, while in other cases, the changes included adding more equipment to the poles below the existing light fixtures.

In either case, many on the council were not keen on the continued additions and their impacts on viewsheds in the residential neighborhoods. While most weren’t overly concerned with the modest request to modify five existing poles, some questioned when it will end as more equipment is added throughout town for increased demand.

It’s a debate that has been ongoing in recent years every time Crown Castle comes back with a request to add more equipment. The town has in place an agreement with the company on where and when equipment can be installed, with most requests for commercial areas such as the Boardwalk, for example, handled by City Engineer Terry McGean and his staff and requests for more poles and equipment in residential areas under the purview of the Mayor and Council. As far as Tuesday’s requests, Councilman Lloyd Martin said he preferred the option of making the existing nodes at the top of the poles higher rather than adding more equipment to the poles.

“I just don’t want too much equipment on the poles in the residential neighborhoods,” he said. “If you go a foot or two higher, people won’t notice after a day or two. If you keep putting more and more stuff on the poles, it becomes more noticeable.”

Crown Castle Government Relations Specialist Trey Spear said the company was cognizant of the concerns about the cell nodes and was working to minimize the impact.

“In the Ocean City community, we’ve had several calls about the level of coverage,” he said. “More and more people are working from home or coming to their Ocean City homes to work remotely.”

Spear said the company’s agreement with the town ensured some controls on the proliferation of the equipment and where it can be located.

“I’m hearing concerns about adding more and more to the poles,” he said. “With our agreement with the town, we would need to come back to the Mayor and Council with any requests to do that.”

Councilman John Gehrig said his concerns weren’t specifically with the request on the table, but questioned where and when it will end.

“We can have somebody come in and put poles everywhere,” he said. “It’s always going to be more. We are fast heading to the point we’re going to have poles everywhere. With all of these buildings and all of this real estate, you would think we don’t need these poles all around our neighborhoods, but that’s where this is heading.”

In the end, the council voted 4-3 with Gehrig, Council President Matt James and Council Secretary Tony DeLuca opposed.

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.