Hilton Head Plantation residents appeal cell tower's approval

tbarton@islandpacket.comNovember 13, 2013 

Hilton Head Plantation residents hoping for better wireless service will have to wait.

Two residents last week challenged town decisions that cleared the way for a 149-foot cell tower inside the gated community.

The tower was to be disguised as a pine tree and built between White Tail Deer Lane and Dolphin Head Drive. It would initially serve Verizon customers, but other carriers could be added later, plantation general manager Peter Kristian said.

Construction was to begin this winter and be completed early next year, Kristian said. The town, however, cannot issue permits to begin construction until the appeals have been resolved, he added.

The earliest that construction could begin would be sometime in January, if the town's Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals uphold the decisions, Kristian said.

Homeowner Brad Wainwright is challenging senior town planner Jayme Lopko's decision Oct. 23 to approve a minor change to the plantation's land-use plans to allow the tower.

"The landscape view of these nine property owners will be permanently changed from natural open space" to a cell tower, Wainwright wrote in his appeal.

Town ordinance requires property owners within 100 feet of the tower to be notified of the proposed zoning change and that a majority of "affected property owners" must be in favor.

Of those within 100 feet, two oppose it, two support it and one did not respond, Lopko said. Property owners were notified that a lack of a response would indicate support, she said.

Wainwright argues he and eight others within 350 feet of the proposed tower, who are opposed, should also have been considered as affected. Town ordinance provides them the right to appeal, but does not define who is considered an affected property owner.

Fifty-seven plantation residents signed a petition in August opposing the tower, calling it an eyesore. They object to its size and its proximity to homes. They also say the tower's placement violates plantation covenants governing the use of "open space," which the property owners' association denies.

Wainwright also says the tower would harm the value of surrounding property.

Many residents disagree. Of the 333 emails town staff received about the zoning change, 316 supported it and 17 opposed it.

Another resident, Jeffrey Kaplan, is also challenging approval by senior town planner Nicole Dixon to subdivide the property, which allowed for the zoning change. Kaplan argues doing so is prohibited by the community's covenants and that Dixon lacks such authority.

Wainwright's appeal is scheduled Dec. 16 before the Board of Zoning Appeals; Kaplan's is scheduled Jan. 2 before the Planning Commission.

Town Council members, in an attempt to ease cell tower placement, passed an ordinance last year allowing them on properties without homes through a minor change in neighborhood land-use plans.

In doing so, though, council might have inadvertently made the process more cumbersome, Mayor Drew Laughlin acknowledged. He has suggested council revise the ordinance to fix ambiguity about who is considered an "affected property owner" and make approvals easier, as council intended.

Kristian recommends council remove the requirement that a majority of affected owners support a cell tower, and instead require approval of the property owners' association board of directors.

"If the POA board elects to do it and it's allowed by their covenants, the ordinance should reflect that authority," he said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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