Mailing error delays Hilton Head cell tower approval

tbarton@islandpacket.comSeptember 25, 2013 

A mailing error by the Town of Hilton Head Island has delayed construction of a cell tower inside Hilton Head Plantation as its property owners association rallies supporters to beat back opposition.

The association sent an email Tuesday informing owners of the delay and encouraging them to email the town in support of the 149-foot tower that telecommunications officials say would lead to fewer dropped calls and faster connection speeds for some wireless customers.

As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, town senior planner Jayme Lopko had received 144 emails in support of the tower in a two-hour period.

Fifty-seven Hilton Head Plantation residents signed a petition last month opposing the tower, calling it an eyesore. They also object to its size, its proximity to homes and the lack of opportunity for plantation residents to vote on the proposal.

Some also claim the tower's placement violates plantation covenants governing the use of "open space," which the POA denies.

The town this week rescinded approval of a minor change to the plantation's land-use plans to allow the tower after town staff learned notification letters mailed to nearby property owners who live out of state were sent to the wrong addresses. Letters were mailed to the owners' Hilton Head addresses, not their listed out-of-state address, Lopko said.

New letters have since been sent to the correct addresses, and owners now have until the end of the business day Oct. 22 to respond, Lopko said. A public hearing also will be held that day before the town's Design Review Board, which will consider granting final approval of the tower's design. The board granted initial approval at its Sept. 10 meeting.

Town ordinance requires property owners within 100 feet of the tower to be notified of the proposed zoning change; a majority of whom must be in favor in order to be approved by the town.

Of the five properties within 100 feet of the planned tower, one has objected and the others have not yet responded, Lopko said.

Disguised as an exceptionally tall pine tree, the tower would be built between White Tail Deer Lane and Dolphin Head Drive and serve Verizon Wireless customers. Three other carriers could be added later, and AT&T has expressed interest in being one of them, plantation general manager Peter Kristian has said.

If approved, tower construction is expected to begin this fall and be completed by early next year, according to Kristian.

Strengthening wireless coverage became a top priority of the town in 2011. The island's tree canopy, and town rules on where and how towers can be built has contributed to spotty coverage, according to wireless carriers and industry experts.

Better wireless service makes homes more attractive to buyers and the island more appealing to tourists and business people who expect flawless coverage, according to the POA and area realtors.

"The most frequent complaint voiced by residents is poor cellphone service and dropped calls," the email from the POA reads. "This installation will vastly improve cellphone service throughout Hilton Head Plantation."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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