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County Rejects One Jumbo Cell Tower, Approves Another and Hedges On Third

| September 9, 2015

flagler cell towers

Prospects for two of three proposed communication towers rising higher than 300 feet each got cloudier Wednesday as the county commission, in surprise votes, approved only one of the three, in Espanola. (© FlaglerLive)

Responding to concerns about the height, visibility and environmental consequences of three proposed communications towers rising between 320 and 350 feet–more than twice the allowable size under county rules–the Flagler County Commission Wednesday rejected two of the three proposals. (For background on the proposals, see here.)


It did so despite hearing from its own emergency services chief that the towers are essential to ensure emergency communications coverage all over the county, especially as the county upgrades to a new system later this decade. And despite hearing from its county administrator that the three towers together would save the county substantial dollars, as it would not have to renew five-year leases on its existing, ageing towers.

But the counter-arguments were powerful, too–from residents neighboring the proposed towers, from environmentalists with concerns about wildlife and visual pollution, and from those who noted how the county’s land regulations would be rendered invalid if such broad exceptions could be made to allow for colossal towers.

More than four hours of hearings and debates–on top of three earlier hours of a marathon commission meeting that began this morning–resulted in the following decisions late this afternoon: the proposed 320-foot lattice tower on John Anderson Highway in Flagler Beach was rejected, with Commissioners Barbara Revels, Charlie Ericksen and George Hanns voting to reject, and Frank meeker and Nate McLaughlin voting to approve. The proposed 345-foot guyed tower at Espanola was approved unanimously. And the proposed 320-foot guyed tower proposed in the area of Cody’s Corner, off County Road 305, denied by the planning board, was rejected by the commission, again on a 3-2 vote, but pending possible further negotiations with area property owners. That third proposal is in some limbo, with a technical opening for the company to amend its proposal. In effect, a portion of the proposal was tabled, leaving a door open for a different outcome later this month.

“If we can get some satisfaction from the neighbors in some fashion, I don’t know how it would change, maybe it won’t work,” Revels said, “I’m willing to see that happen.”

McLaughlin spoke repeatedly with frustration about the direction of the votes, even the approval of Espanola, which he called “moot,” because “we’ve killed the triangulation of this system and we’re back to square one from the sound of it and we fall short on our serving the public safety factor. Twice.”

“For two and a half hours I’ve seen the perfect discussion of the nimby situation, that not in my backyard discussion,” Meeker said as he talked of the John Anderson tower. “I actually think it’s not going to matter where we put in a tower in this area. If we vote against this one and say well, let’s take a look at the site on the other side of Bulow Creek, then it’s going to be 320 feet or whatever, I’m going to have people coming out of the woodwork on that one.” He said the vote “is going to put off the decision one way or the other.”

James Fisk, president of the Bulow Parks Historic Alliance and a board member of the Flagler County Historical Society, on the other hand, said the county was “letting these companies dictate the policies that we’re having to deal with right now. They’ve got a gun to our head, and that’s ridiculous.” He was referring in this case to NexTower, the Jacksonville-based company that would build the towers and lease space to other companies, and the county, to use them. “I’ve heard a lot of bovine excrement today.”

“There’s possibly other options for John Anderson. I know that we’re out of time,” Revels said, by which she meant that the county’s current leases on four other towers are soon to expire. “I’m sure they’re not going to tally boot us off if we’re still working on it, but I think we’ve got some other potential properties. I agree with the people who have contacted me on the thought process that the county has invested so much money in pristine sites. We have Bulow Creek, which is an outstanding Florida water and a gorgeous, gorgeous location. We have created all these greenways on both ends of our county, and we’re going to trash it with this tower. I know no one likes them in their backyard, it’s very hard to place them, and please everybody–you never will. But I think this one is very ill-advised, and I think there’s more work that we could do on this particular location and I’m not going to support this.”

[This is a developing story. More soon.]

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19 Responses for “County Rejects One Jumbo Cell Tower, Approves Another and Hedges On Third”

  1. FlaglerUNbelievable says:

    Of course the tower on John Anderson Hwy. was rejected the ‘NOT IN MY BACKYARD” argument only works if the commissioners live there. no commissioners live in Espinola.

  2. Brad W says:

    There are two things about this story that really bother me.

    1. Once again we see an extremely dysfunctional County Government. From a County Administrator who did not properly plan for this (reviewing the County regulations beforehand and working solutions way before now with backup options). And a County Commission who just sit back and do not hold the Administrator accountable for anything.

    2. This is not something to take lightly because it’s about communications. We have to have the infrastructure to support the changing landscape of how information travels especially for EMS. A lot of people like to complain but it’s even more important to also bring a solution. Because Lord knows our County Administrator or Commissioner aren’t going to come up with viable solutions.

    This is NOT ok that this matter is just now being addressed with leases expiring on existing towers very soon. Coffey knew of County regulation issues and concerns, he once again waits until the last minute and does not bring options. Time and time again he does this and this Commission needs to stand up and tell him enough is enough and start holding him accountable. I’m starting to think that maybe they all should be voted out at this point and even if we had someone like the poor candidates that have run in the recent past they might be at least a little better than what we’re getting now.

    • Charlie Ericksen, Jr says:

      I’d be glad to see your name as a candidate. Are you up to the challenge? Not kidding…

      • Brad W says:

        Charlie,

        Thank you for the reply, but with all due respect . . . what does that mean? That we should not speak out against what is obviously a very dysfunctional County Government in obvious need of our elected leaders to apply accountability? That we should only have a voice unless we run for a local office? To be honest, that is absolutely absurd and it is the perception many have around here. Quite frankly it’s flat out insulting.

        To be honest, yes, I have thought about running. But honestly, I have a job that I love where I get to work with an awesome group of people and have no intention of leaving it. But just because I don’t intend to sit on our County Commission does not mean I do not care and should not have a voice. We’ve invested quite a bit here, lost quite a bit, and work pretty hard to bring others here. So its extremely frustrating to see a County that take as much of our tax dollars as it does, producing so many failures, and relies on a City to provide the majority of services at half of the tax dollars.

        What I personally think our County Commission needs to take a moment and reflect on is the fact that you all like to tell, and it does not appear you care to listen. This is why this Commission is constantly reactive and not proactive. It is also a commission that does not have many wins at all and refuses to take responsibility for it’s failures and shortcomings. You have allowed more and more money to be thrown at a Sheriff’s office that claims crime is down but needs major expansion to accomodate prisoners. At the same time he is being investigated for inappropriate use of tax dollars, and where is the challenge from this Commission? Where is the accountability of Coffey and Dunn for the failures and unethical behaviors regarding Princess Place and the Spartan Race? Where is the challenge to the EDC who wants over $70k for a website and marketing strategy? Where is the accountability for Coffey not being on top of the Manatee Protection plan falling through the cracks and holding up millions in needed construction and permits? And where is the accountability here for this not being in the works for at least the last 2-3 years?

        Perhaps if you could provide us with some insight, maybe I might understand. Or perhaps I should try and get a hold of that 1990’s style PDF newsletter to download (where ever that may be) and I’d be better “in the know” when it comes to our County.

  3. Jose Caniusi says:

    I read a while back that Lucent Technology had developed a signal booster about the size of a loaf of bread and supposedly could replace cell towers.Perhaps the county should look into this.

    • NerdAlert says:

      The makings of a very good point. Technology is changing so rapidly that planning for what the County may need later in this decade makes the current tower technology obsolete. Just look at your phone and all that it can do now, and think about the changes that took place in its hardware in just a few short years.

      EMS will need new communications systems, and to Brad W’s point, the County should do some planning now, but select the final hardware closer to the needed implementation date.

  4. Eleventh Hour says:

    I imagine that everyone involved (emergency services, commission) has known this deadline was coming. Why, yet again, is it just being addressed when we are down to the wire? I agree with Mr. Fiske re: the bovine excrement!

  5. Newbie says:

    Thank you, Barbara Revels, Charlie Ericksen and George Hanns! Frank Meeker is my county commissioner– a disappointing one at that. Work harder. Find another place. I fear they are hiding behind the “public safety” issue when really it’s about money…. because, isn’t it always?

  6. J.N. Salyers says:

    Really Newbie? I’m sure you’d think differently if you were in public safety. Why don’t you let those who are actually risking their lives for our safety, our firefighters, paramedics, and law enforcement officers, explain why their communication abilities, or lack thereof, are not only important to their safety, but also yours. Ask them- engage them in the conversation. Perhaps that may change your mind. In the meantime, since you think Meeker should work harder, why don’t you email him some suggestions you think might help solve the current situation instead of just complaining. Your analysis of the situation is weak and extremely short sighted in my humble opinion, and further research might help you to become part of the solution, not just a critic.

  7. Patriot76 says:

    I’m really tired of the overtly “loud” minority of people in this county opposing infrastructural programs because they impede on their visual green scape. It’s absolutely ridiculous..

    Even if in complete ignorance you label public safety an issue to “hide behind” – you are also infringing on the desires of others to have better quality services.

    So many people in this county bicker about taxes – yet they also have the nerve to complain when their services are lackluster or failing. These people need to have oversight more than the government because I have never seen so much contradiction.

    It also helps to be educated on issues – at this point I’m begging you all to pick one, get educated, and shut up about things you clearly know little about. This is the best way to serve the people at this point

  8. My thoughts says:

    [Selected as the Comment of the Day in the Weekend Briefing.–FL]

    County Administration was proposing that the tower company to build on County land and would’ve paid to lease County space from the tower company! The height the County would occupy on the tower is at a height that cell phone providers do not occupy. So it’s dead space for the tower company anyhow. The cost to the County to lease the space would’ve decreased as more cell phone service providers were added. As most of us know, ATT, Verizon, Sprint and T Mobile are selling their capacity to Wal-Mart, Cricket, Face Talk, and whoever else is out there in the secondary markets so I’m not sure how much additional “space: on a cell tower is needed. Not a good deal if you’re the property owner in the first place.

  9. RAKA says:

    iT IS IRONIC THAT YOU SEE NO CELL TOWERS IN EUROPE. MOBILE PHONES THERE ARE CONNECTED BY SATILITE. JUST ANOTHER AREA WHERE WE ARE WAY BEHIND..

  10. Patriot76 says:

    Even if that were an accurate statement, to put your entire communication infrastructure on satellite is extremely foolish from a national security standpoint. There is also a latency issue aka time delay between space and real time on earth that could cause disruptions, not to mention the amount of raw data you can pump through satellites vs hard lines is incredibly small businesses in comparison.

  11. Oldseadog says:

    Our lack of control of elected Flagler Officials as to be in tune with voter interests,
    really continues to simply amaze me. The Staff seem to be in control. I’m reminded of
    this great quotation from many years ago:

    “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”
    ……………..Thomas Paine

  12. Rick Belhumeur says:

    Flagler County owns over 1,000 acres between John Anderson Hwy and Old Kings Road. There has to be a plot where a tower can be built without encroaching on residential properties.

  13. WISHFUL THINKING says:

    Cell towers etc… Doesn’t it all boil down to who lobbys the highest and best???????? Common sense, safety of human beings ( and their pets) appear to be of no concern or smeared with gobble dee gook when the big bucks and/ or big boys – or both – are involved.

  14. Oceanside says:

    I’m STILL not seeing any solid arguments as to why the towers must be that high. Or even if they are really necessary. If the Jn Anderson tower is in disrepair, a stronger tower that isn’t higher could be built.

    Not seeing any alternative plans, either. It’s the usual this-is-what-the-county-must-do-or-the-sky-will-fall argument–which is really nothing more than a thinly-veiled threat. Do X–or else!

    In this case, we’re told public safety will suffer. That’s always a popular reason given. Or, the environment will be ruined forever.

    I don’t see a crisis here. Could it be that this is a manufactured crisis–with the NexTower supporters offering only one “solution”?

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