Towering ‘stealth’ cell tower toppled by committee

Towering ‘stealth’ cell tower toppled by committee
Proposed cell tower location is within the FEC right-of-way north of the railroad crossing at River Oaks Road

Despite recommendation by the Planning and Development Department to approve a railroad-side cellular tower, at the end of the day, vegetation ruled.

On May 8 the Tower Review Committee, by denying a landscape waiver, essentially toppled the application by Dynan Group and PI Telecom Infrastructure to erect a 150-foot cellular tower in a right-of-way near the Florida East Coast railway where it crosses River Oaks Road.

Opponents to the application, such as the San Marco Preservation Society and developer Steve Cissel, felt that the camouflaged unipole tower, to be erected for AT&T, would have dominated the view from Alexandria Oaks Park on the west side and Cissel’s proposed development Jackson Square and Philips Highway on the east side.

Proposed cell tower location is within the FEC right-of-way north of the  railroad crossing at River Oaks Road

Proposed cell tower location is within the FEC right-of-way north of the
railroad crossing at River Oaks Road

The Tower Review Committee, consisting of Councilmen Matt Schellenberg, Robin Lumb, Ray Holt, and Planning Commissioners Lisa King and Jerry Lee Friley, voted three to two to reject the requested landscape waiver which, had they approved it, would have advanced to the Planning Commission for further consideration.

“The proposed placement of the cellular tower was on property owned by the Florida East Coast railroad,” stated Councilman Lumb in an email to The Resident. “Because the required landscaping would have encroached on the portion of the FEC’s right-of-way that, for operational purposes, it keeps clear of vegetation, the applicant sought a waiver.”

Under the rules of the TRC, an applicant may be entitled to a “hardship waiver” unless the hardship is self-created or self-imposed. “Since the applicant had only considered the FEC property just north of River Oaks Road for the cellular tower, and because it never considered any other potential location in the area including potential locations between Philips Highway and I-95, the TRC determined that the hardship was, in effect, self-imposed and therefore denied the landscape waiver,” Lumb concluded.

Although there is an existing 135-foot tower less than 900 feet away, it is not high enough for AT&T antennas, according to the report.

Advocates for current and future San Marco residents were happy with the outcome.

Cissel, who is planning a multi-use development nearby, was particularly concerned about the location of the proposed tower. “These towers are sort of obnoxious, particularly where they wanted to put it. A large tower already exists near the railroad tracks off St. Augustine Road and River Oaks,” he stated.

Objections were also voiced by the San Marco Preservation Society, as the tower was slated to be installed immediately adjacent to Alexandria Oaks Park (formerly known as FEC Park).
“There was no reason, as far as I could tell, why the tower couldn’t have been located to the south side of River Oaks Road in the FEC right-of-way. There it would be obscured from view by trees, and it would not have been visible in a clear shot from anywhere except the railroad crossing,” said Andrew Dickson, SMPS Parks Chair. “The parcel in question extends to both sides of the railroad crossing. The tower company was quite adamant that it could not be located in any other place.”

Mary Toomey, president of SMPS, said the organization opposed the cell tower for a number of reasons. “It does not meet the minimum distance requirements from parks nor the landscaping requirements of the Ordinance Code,” she said. “The tower would be an eyesore not only for all the neighbors whose houses border Alexandria Oaks Park but also for the many users of the park.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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