The Palm Coast City Council today in a pair of unanimous if somewhat guarded votes approved two lease agreements with Diamond Communications to build 150-foot cell towers at the eastern edge of Royal Palms Parkway and in the heart of Club House Drive in Palm Coast.
The Parkway location was not controversial. It’s far from existing homes. The Club House Drive location, on a city-owned parcel used for a utility pump station, was more controversial, because it is in a dense residential zone. But cell reception is poor there. AT&T has been on the hunt for a tower in the area for years. Diamon attempted to build one in the city-owned Palm Harbor Golf Club. Opposition was swift and angry. The council rejected that plan in early 2021. The Club House Drive location was the next best thing. (See: “Another Cell Tower Plan Near Palm Harbor Golf Has Palm Coast Council Fearful of Public Reaction.”)
The council’s two 4-0 votes Tuesday aren’t the end of the story. Diamond’s proposal must now go before the Palm Coast Planning Board to secure a special zoning exception for the tower, and the council still has an exit clause (as does Diamond). So opposition is likely not over. Nor is the 4-0 vote as unanimous as it looks. One council member–Eddie Branquinho–said he was voting for the lease today only to give the process a chance to work itself out, and the public a further chance to address Diamond’s plans at a subsequent neighborhood meeting and before the Planning Board.
The company is now considering lowering the monopole’s height or changing its design to lessen the impact on neighboring homes. “We’re going to present a series of alternatives, views of different structures, a bell tower, a tree, a flagpole type design,” Tom Waniewski of Diamond Communications told the council. Those plans will be presented to neighbors of the tower site at a neighborhood meeting in July. “We’re actually hoping to get neighborhood input and if they decide that the tree is what they consider best, that’s what we’re going to use to apply for.” Waniewski said tree designs are better than flagpole designs. Flagpoles lessen transmission’s efficiency.
Before the vote, Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin cited the 94,000 residents in the city, and their dependence on seamless communications in emergencies, setting down an obvious marker against the opposition: predicating a project on “public safety” has become the equivalent of predicating one “for the children,” a rhetorical strategy designed to neutralize the opposition, or at least put it in a defensively dubious position.
“Our aging population is increasingly vulnerable to unpredictable health and safety emergencies,” Alfin said. “Residents should be confident that cell phone service will be available everywhere at any time in Palm Coast whenever their health or safety is at risk. So I speak for myself on the city council that public safety for every one of our residents and for every one of our law enforcement officers and every one of our first responders will rise to the top of any decision-making I make on the dais. I am in favor of moving these ordinances, these resolutions forward today.”
Law enforcement and first responders have their own telecommunication tower network, paid for and run exclusively by county taxpayers and administered by the county. That network is not dependent on private-company towers such as Diamond’s. However, first responders, deputies and firefighters primarily, do not rely only on the emergency network, which they use when they communicate by radio. Their computer-assisted dispatching–in every patrol car, in every fire truck and on other electronic devices–relies on regular cell towers for reception as well. CAD is an integral part of responders’ work in real time. (A previous version of this article inaccurately neglected to include that aspect of responders’ communications.)
Whether Diamond places a cell tower up or not makes no difference to the emergency communications system–but it does not exclusively affect private residents’ service, when CAD communications are taken into account.
Ahead of today’s meeting, opponents of the cell tower in Palm Harbor’s golf club re-circulated documentation from that time, prepared by the late Lou Vitale, who’d led the opposition. Imposing as he was in person, especially when he threatened lawsuits against the city, his ghost was less persuasive today.
One of the locations the current opposition pointed to is a parcel on the west side of Linear Park, another is on Linear Park itself, to the east. They were strange proposals, considering that one of their proponents, Dennis McDonald, has previously spoken of Linear Park as one of the great treasures of the city. (He addressed the council today, too, repeating the word “monstrosity.”)
Much of Linear Park is in greenway zoning. “We cannot construct a cell tower on those parcels,” Doug Akins, the city’s IT director, said. In one case, the vitale proposal fell in the greenway zoning. In another, it fell in a flood plain, which again prevents the city from building anything considered a “critical facility” there. Cell towers are considered critical structures. There were no areas on Holland Park where a tower could rise with appropriate setbacks. The Community center and fire station on Palm Coast Parkway were not options, either. That left the utility parcel off Club House Drive, Akins said.
Council member Eddie Branquionho said he went to the parcel and imagined a tower there. “It doesn’t look good,” he said, calling it worse than the defunct location on the golf course. “Why not private property somewhere that wouldn’t create this problem?” He said he favors “every possible tower on city property, because that’s income for us,” but not this one.
Tom Waniewski of Diamond Communications said the company looked at several private property parcels. But the further south the locations–as those locations were–the further away the tower would get from its intended coverage area, defeating its purpose. That said, “There’s not significant ground space” along Palm Coast Parkway “to be able to place the tower there at all. The only areas that commercial areas that do have significant ground space, again are further south,” Waniewski said.
There was public opposition at today’s meeting, but compared to the battle over the golf course tower, it was very limited. Celia Pugliese cited unproven claims that proximity to cell towers causes health problems such as cancer, memory loss and exhaustion.
“The American Cancer Society (ACS) does not have any official position or statement on whether or not radiofrequency (RF) radiation from cell phones, cell phone towers, or other sources is a cause of cancer,” the society states on its website. It looks to other organizations such as the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), or the US National Toxicology Program (NTP). “So far, neither IARC nor the NTP have classified the cancer-causing potential of RF waves from cell phone towers specifically,” the society states. IARC has found a possible link between RF radiation and tumors, but among cell users, because of the frequency and proximity of their cell phones to their head.
Alan Lowe, a candidate for a council seat, recalled the debate over the Palm Harbor proposal, questioned why at the time Diamond said it could not look like a tree, but now it can. (Waniewski said this time Diamond is willing to do it to win public approval even though it adds “substantially” to the cost.) Lowe also raised the potential for the towers to be made obsolete by 5G technology (the quick answer, for now, is no, according to experts: towers are a needed backbone to the smaller, more frequent 5G locations.)
A few other people spoke in opposition, and one didn’t–Greg Blose, the head of the local chamber–who got Branquinho to confess that for once, he agreed with Blose: cell reception needs to be improved in the city. But he qualified his support with a caveat to Diamond’s Waniewski: “I’ll be voting in favor of this today with the possibility of denying it after you speak with the people, and I want to hear what the people have to say after that. By me denying it today. I’m not going to have a chance of you talking to the people.”
Council member John Fanelli echoed Branquinho’s approach, buoying the opposition ahead, though the council still would have a majority of three in favor of the towers: Alfin and Council embers Ed Danko and Nick Klufas have spoken of cell coverage as essential. Danko also made the motion to approve the Club House lease. Klufas was absent from today’s meeting.
HAH, HAH, HAH! LOL!
Yeah, that’s nuts. Planting some tall pines around a standard, green painted cell tower would be more reasonable to me… not saying whether or not a tower should be placed there (due to health concerns). Just saying that’s nuts… you must be joking. Sorry, just another reminder that I “live in the land of Oz.”
Why don’t they put it in Hammock Dunes ??
Willy James says
Tin foil hats for everybody!
The ORIGINAL land of no turn signals says
Alfin is so for this tower then stick it in HIS backyard.
This is a joke, right? NIMBY!!!
GOOD! Cell reception is HORRIBLE in this town. HORRIBLE!
First, they declined the golf course…if they decline this, we need to have a real heart-to-heart in this town about where we are going to place these important pieces of infrastructure.
Right off the exit of Palm Coast Parkway and I95 in the southwest or northeast quadrant seems logical. The entire business district is a dead zone.
Celia Pugliese says
They should be located in the center of the PC parkway as suggested…and the city IT administrator declined…They do not want it in greeen acres Linear Park but they want it among our homes to have us affected 24-7 by the tower health concern emissions? Is like with nicotine for decades used promoted and cheered then after half a century or more of ex[posure discovered how malingnant was, by tren many lost their lives to cancer, etc. Same with asbestos and many more other malignant exposures. 2 communities and one nursing home will be exposed to this tower health effect located less than 1,00o ft of those residences added to the devaluation of the properties around it. Who want to buy less than 1,ooo ft of this towers? We have here the Diamond “agent” and not a communications expert towers engineer stating against all our concerns with no credentials at all negating the towet reach if moved 200 yards to a better location for the affected residents. Same with the city IT administrator no professional credentials at all for his posture against the residents and in favor of the tower. How many towers less than 1000 ft from Grand Haven, Hammock Dunes or the Sanctuary etc. homes? They alledge safety and security for fire and sheriff then they risk our health over that and the value of our homes….when our fire and sheriff services are excellent now!
Great, I’m all for adding the necessary cell towers to improve the spotty cell service here in Palm Coast. With so many trees here in the city, cell towers can easily be camoflauged just like the this article’s photo to resemble a tree, so unless you are close by and actually looking for them, they just kind of blend in. Quite a few other cities around the country do the same thing so they are not so noticable. Oh I know, some people are just against whatever kind of technology infrastructure is being put in place regardless of what the improvement will be for the people who live here. Well folks, some improvements are necessary, some even critical to the safety of its citizens, and this is one of them.
When I moved here 3 years ago I could not believe that a city of this size has such terrible cell coverage. I cant use my cell phone in my own home for lack of coverage. With all the land available around the city it’s unbelievable that towers cant easily be built. This city is just overrun with grievance politics and a dumb NO! culture. Sad, it’s such a beautiful place otherwise.
Joe Runac says
This is a terrible spot. Far too residential. Meeting was 100 per cent in opposition to the location. Sneaky to hold it on a Friday night at 6.30 in summer,yet over 100 people attending and all agreed it’s the wrong location.