By Maggie West; Beacon Media
To an empty room, on July 27, Milton's Planning Commission reviewed the new zoning criteria concerning cell towers. In comparison to the standing room only crowd when T-Mobile stood before the city council requesting a location for a new cell tower, the silence was deafening.
Despite this fact, each commission member examined every detail of the new zoning ordinance. But only after Chair George Ragsdale made sure the changes wouldn't interfere with City Attorney Ken Jarrad's rewritten telecommunication ordinance, which must match the state's new law on cell tower co-existence.
During the review, Ragsdale questioned Stealth designs being merely encouraged not required. To which the Community Development staff said "Highway 9 would be a little more stringent in that it's requiring a stealth design."Staff also added "One of the factors in the criteria for deciding approvals of cell tower applications is they consider stealth design and if they did not, why not."
A lengthy exchange ensued.
Ragsdale: "I was confused when I read that. The only thing I saw was a single line item that references stealth design but it doesn't necessarily require that."
Staff: "What I'm looking at...says that stealth design is required for all cell towers."
Ragsdale: "But how are cell towers defined? We've created terms now in this ordinance, and cell tower is not a defined term anymore. We have wireless telecommunication facilities� and telecommunication facilities."
Staff: "I'm looking in the definitions in the overall ordinance and there's no definition for cell tower. There's cellular."
Eventually they agreed to amend the ordinance by replacing "cell towers" for "telecommunication facilities."
But it didn't end here.
Ragsdale: "Stealth technology installations are defined to be acceptable when it's installed on an existing structure that it has not significantly changed the profile of the existing structure. What are we calling the existing structure? It is the entire pole? Or is it the building on the ground?"
Staff: "They're talking about a stealth antenna that's attached to a building. You can have those in addition to a camouflage tower, which is also stealth to some degree."
Ragsdale: "When is says 'not to change the profile' do we agree that we're saying it's not going to go higher than the existing tower?"
Ragsdale: "Then why doesn't it say that? Significantly is not a defined term. Why don't we just say 'no higher than the existing tower' if that's what we really mean?"
Staff: "I don't know."
Ragsdale: "I could argue that ten feet higher doesn't significantly change the profile."
Staff: "Our attorneys looked at it. They don't find any issue with that."
Ragsdale: "The other thing is the rest of that that says 'and is not readily noticeable to the untrained eye'. I would argue that in any of the samples that are in here including the tree that is 150 feet tall is readily noticeable to the untrained eye. We weren't asked to look at it, but it just seems to me that we've included terms that open ourselves up to too much subjectivity because they're not well enough defined."
The new zoning ordinance was eventually unanimously approved with only the one modification. With numerous applications on their plate, is Milton ready to take the chance again?