When the Palm Coast City Council was talking cell towers last summer, council member Bill McGuire ridiculed towers camouflaged to look like trees as “kind of dumb looking.”
On Tuesday, the council said it would approve the first such “kind of dumb looking tower,” a 150-foot monopole that would rise above the city’s water treatment plant just west of the county public library. The tower would accommodate four wireless carriers, among them AT&T, which has had notoriously poor service locally. (AT&T has signed on for that tower.)
American Tower will build the tower, make it look like a tree tower the top—hence its name: “monopine”—and lease the city land on which the tower sits for $24,000 a year, with 3 percent increments every year. The lease is for five years, with options to renew five times for five years each.
The city will not own the tower, the first to be built under the city’s new, more permissive regulations. After some initial hesitation, the council last summer approved relaxing restrictions on cell towers along Palm Coast Parkway, enabling the taller towers and presumably improving cell phone reception, which is poor in several parts of the city. The lease with American Tower also allows the city to install its own communications equipment on the tower, at no cost to the city, City Manager Jim Landon said.
That opened the inevitable line of questioning that ties into the larger discussion about the city’s and county’s emergency communications system. The county in the next few years will be replacing its existing system and possibly improving its reach, though for now it’s not clear what those improvements will entail other than, very likely, some additional towers—either many shorter towers or a few more much taller towers that rise 350 feet.
With that in mind, council member Jason DeLorenzo wondered whether it would make more sense to locate both the American Tower and a potential 350-foot tower at the city fire station on Corporate Drive nearby.
That may not fit the private company’s needs, however. “They were very specific on where the tower could go,” said Steve Viscardi, the city’s IT director, who presented the American Tower proposal to the council today, and whose department budget will profit from the lease payments. “It fills a hole in the coverage, so if it’s even a quarter mile this way, it doesn’t fill their coverage over here kind of thing.”
“I was under the impression that this is part of a system of towers that the city is contemplating,” McGuire said.
“Yes, we’ve been talking for some time, basically of cell phone towers, that’s different from what the county’s needs are, and what those needs are, we have no idea,” Landon said. “If another tower is needed, long term in the future, and what exactly that is and what that tower is going to be, I don’t think anybody knows.”
Nevertheless, DeLorenzo said, the proposed location of the American Tower structure is less than a quarter mile from where yet another tower might well rise. “I’m worried about finding locations for 350-foot towers in our community,” he said. “It just seems that between the parkways is a much better place.”
“The conversation about towers and emergency radio needs is frustrating, Landon said, because the city “should know by now, but we don’t.”
The county doesn’t yet know, Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts, who’s been in correspondence with County Commission Chairman Barbara Revels on the issue, said.
Netts wanted to know what happens should American Tower opt not to renew the lease past the initial five-year term.
“We water it, take care of it,” Viscardi joked, before specifying that the company is responsible for removing the tower within a matter of weeks should it default on the lease terms.
McGuire and even Netts couldn’t resist more snark when an image of the tree-like tower appeared on their screen. “If you’ve got a giant bottle and you want to wash it,” McGuire said, letting the thought trail.
“Can we decorate this for the Christmas holiday?” the mayor asked. Actually, no: it’s not in the lease terms.
The council is expected to ratify its decision at a meeting next month.