Denial of cell tower may lead to lawsuit


With public comments – for and against – the St. Johns County Commission decided to ignore the February 5th approval of the county’s Planning and Zoning Agency to allow Anchor Tower to construct an alternative style mono-cross cell phone tower on property owned and used by St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Fruit Cove; opting to deny their application.

Mono-cross cell phone tower construction, which was proposed by Anchor and initially approved by the PZA, is less obvious as to its purpose because the antennas are hidden within the tower pole itself; not mounted on a framework on the outside of the tower. The pole would be fabricated in a solid white color and would resemble a cross which the Rector of St. Patricks said was approved by her vestry.

One carrier, Metro PCS, provided maps that illustrated areas along SR 13 where varying levels of service are currently available; as well as a large area where their customers are not able to communicate.

Federal law provides that those carriers who compete in specific, licensed areas of the country are entitled to erect towers necessary to house antennas capable of providing communications to the customers that they serve.

Freshman commissioner, Ken Bryan, began cross-examining the applicant from e-mail complaints he claims to have received from unnamed constituents — until he was interrupted by County Attorney Pat McCormack who warned Bryan that although it might be “nice to know” his questions were outside the scope of consideration by the commission.

The common practice in the cellular industry is to co-locate antennas on existing towers in order to minimize the number of towers being erected. Unfortunately, each tower may only carry as few as four or as many as five, or six sets of antennas.

Other suitable tower sites are already at maximum capacity according to testimony from a representative of Anchor Tower and Metro PCS, making the St. Patricks site within the small window of locations where the tower could be constructed.

Commission Chairman Cyndi Stevenson, whose remarks appeared to indicate that she had familiarized herself with the requirements of the federal laws that some say are “friendly” towards cellular companies, was the only commissioner who questioned the county attorney as to how much money it might cost to defend against a lawsuit if the commission denied the application after it had received PZA approval.

McCormack responded that our costs might be $50,000 or so but that “if we lose” St. Johns County could be held liable for the applicant’s legal fees which could double his estimate, or more.

In a letter that accompanied the application, Metro PCS who is the anchor tenant for the proposed Fruit Cove tower, Leasing and Zoning Manager Craig Green gives a clue as to the argument they may make if legal action is taken against the county as a result of this denial.

“Without the proposed site, services will be very unreliable for residential and commercial areas along N. State Road 13. In addition, MetroPCS (has) an obligation to provide a reliable emergency public service required by the FCC. Without this site, E911 service will not be met and residential and commercial areas along N State Road 13 will not have reliable service.”

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