Crown Castle Poles on Ocean City Boardwalk Denied For “Visual Pollution”

The Ocean City, Maryland Mayor and City Council rejected a proposal this week by Crown Castle to construct 12 cell phone towers along the boardwalk, citing “visual pollution,” reported The Dispatch.

Back in 2015, Crown Castle proposed a plan to construct 90 Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) in Ocean City, some as tall as 38 feet, to expand bandwidth, relieve congestion and improve service. Earlier this year, the Mayor and Council reached an agreement with Crown Castle allowing the company to install up to 90 of the towers throughout the resort, avoiding residential areas. The installation of these towers is underway; however, even after all 90 towers are constructed, the bandwidth needed for thousands of summer visitors using cell phones and mobile devices will still fall short.

Considering this challenge, Crown Castle returned to Ocean City this week and proposed installing another 19 towers, including 12 on the boardwalk, south of 27th Street, and side streets between Baltimore and Philadelphia Avenues, and was denied permission. The council wants to preserve the aesthetic views on of the boardwalk and beach. Installing 12 towers means one every three blocks along the boardwalk, which Council members deem as visual pollution.  

“They are ugly,” said Councilman Tony DeLuca. “As you stand on the boardwalk and look toward the ocean, that’s what you’re going to see. We’re very sensitive to preserving those views. It seems like there is a serious problem.”

Crown Castle was asked to present an alternative proposal, avoiding visual pollution on the Boardwalk and sightlines to the beach. Councilman Wayne Hartman noted, “We spent millions of dollars to underground the utilities on Baltimore Avenue. Now we’re talking about adding more cell phone antennas there.”

According to The Dispatch, devising an alternative proposal will be challenging for Crown Castle with this added restriction of avoiding visual pollution on the boardwalk. The objective of adding additional towers near the beach is to get close to the concentration of cell phone users in these high traffic areas. The DAS towers installed on water towers and tall buildings just can’t meet the demand; users are overloading the current network during the summertime. To add to the challenge, currently, towers are prohibited in residential neighborhoods and there are additional zoning restrictions regarding the density of towers in certain areas, according to City Engineer Terry McGean.

“Crown Castle is considered a public utility and will only install antennas on public property or in the city right-of-way,” he said. “They have worked with us to move them to the best possible locations.”

With many City Council members as well as Mayor Rick Meehan opposing continuously adding additional towers, the congestion issue may not be resolved in the near future. The major challenge is providing adequate cell service during peak times along the beach and boardwalk, and installing ground-level towers will meet that demand, according to Crown Castle Government Relations Specialist Nathan Campbell.

April 14, 2017      

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