BY ANNE CHECKOSKY
Will a cell phone tower encased in a flagpole be allowed to be erected at the Wellington Marketplace shopping plaza at Wellington Trace and Greenview Shores Blvd.? Or will the request be denied by village officials? Right now that question is very much undecided.
Part of it was supposed to be answered at the July 2 meeting of Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board. But attorney Cliff Hertz, a partner in the law firm of Broad & Cassel based in West Palm Beach and representing builder Clearview Tower, asked that the item be postponed until the Aug. 7 meeting. The request was granted after a short discussion.
At issue are two variances that Wellington told Clearview it must obtain to build the tower. One is a height restriction. The original proposal called for a 140-foot tower, which exceeded the 120-foot limit set by the village. That was withdrawn, Hertz said.
The other is a 600-foot setback the village requires from the base of the tower to residential areas. Village staff interprets Clearview’s proposal as not meeting the setback distance.
On Tuesday, Hertz e-mailed village officials informing them of his client’s intent to appeal how village staff is interpreting the setback language.
Planning & Zoning Manager David Flinchum is confident that Wellington staff is correctly interpreting the ordinance. “We have a consistently agreed on interpretation,” he said.
At the Aug. 7 meeting, however, the appeal will be heard by the PZA board, which is autonomous in the matter, Flinchum said. That means the appeal continues or ends with that board.
If the board agrees with village staff, Clearwater will have to apply for the variance. If the variance is denied, the issue will be dead, Flinchum said. The only recourse Clearview would have at that point would be to appeal in court, he added.
But if the board agrees with Clearview — that village staff is incorrectly interpreting the language — no variance would be required. The project would proceed, eventually landing before the Wellington Village Council for a vote.
But Flinchum doesn’t think that’s likely, adding that the burden is on the applicant here. “There’s a strong likelihood the council will never see this,” he said.
Jack Rupert, principal of Clearview, based in Edison, N.J., said he thinks his proposal meets the setback requirements. “These things are not being done on a whim,” he said.
They’re being done because there’s a demand for the services the carriers provide, he explained. In this case, the carriers are AT&T and Verizon. “We build the towers to what the carriers need,” he said.
Demand is on the rise for cell phone service, as more people abandon land lines and rely on cell phones as their primary means of communication, Rupert said. And the number of cell phone customers downloading or streaming content to and from their devices is only going to increase, he added.
To be able to handle all that data — without dropping calls or making it hard to make calls — carriers are always looking for ways to increase and improve services. One way to do that is to build shorter towers in acceptable locations, but to build more of them to meet the demand. “That’s the tradeoff,” Rupert said.
Clearview representatives identified Wellington as an area where there are service problems, he said. Cell phone users were either missing or dropping calls, having trouble making calls or experiencing long download times, Rupert said. Clearview then contacted the carriers with that information and its proposed solution of building a tower in the Wellington Marketplace, a nonresidential area, he said.
Rupert said the carriers got on board with the idea and are fully backing it, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the project if it moves forward.
Rupert asserted that the proposed tower poses no safety issues. Further, the tower will be in an enclosed and fenced area so residents won’t see the antenna or lines. It is located in an auxiliary, little-used part of the parking lot, he said.
“They rarely fail, even in hurricanes,” he said.
Clearview will be canvassing the area before the next zoning meeting to get input from residents and businesses, Rupert said.
“We want to be good neighbors,” he said. “We welcome questions.”