Council approves cell tower at Hilton Head Plantation

dburley@islandpacket.comMay 6, 2014 

  • In other business, council:

    • Voted to sell 10 acres of unused town land behind the Pineland Station retail complex for $1 million. The land will be part of a planned redevelopment of the shopping center, according to town documents.
    • Approved a resolution to support S.C. Department of Transportation plans to alter turn lanes near the entrance to Windmill Harbour. The move would improve safety for drivers entering U.S. 278 from the community, DOT has said. The project is expected to cost $500,000 and be finished by the end of the year.
    • Approved a resolution supporting S.C. DOT plans to replace the bridge over Jarvis Creek on Spanish Wells Road. The 75-foot-long span would be replaced with a 480-foot crossing. The project is estimated to cost $4.5 million and would be paid for with federal highway funds and state dollars, according to DOT officials.

Despite some earlier opposition from residents, a cell phone tower will likely begin to rise in Hilton Head Plantation this summer.

Town Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a measure to re-zone land in the gated community to build the Verizon Wireless tower. The vote was 6-0, with Councilman Lee Edwards absent.

Council members said the tower will provide reliable cell phone and data service in an area with spotty coverage.

"I think this is a move in the right direction," Councilman Bill Harkins, a Hilton Head Plantation resident, said.

The 149-foot tower will be disguised as a pine tree, between White Tail Deer Lane and Dolphin Head Drive. That land, about .14 acres, is owned by the property owners association.

It initially will serve Verizon Wireless customers, but as many as three other carriers could be added later, according to the company's application to the town.

"Improving phone service has been the number one item on residents' minds for years," plantation general manager Peter Kristian said. "This will be an excellent fix."

The vote Tuesday likely ends efforts by several residents to prevent the tower's construction. No one spoke against the tower at Tuesday's meeting.

Crown Castle International, the company constructing the tower on behalf of Verizon, planned to complete it earlier this year.

But pushback from some Hilton Head Plantation homeowners delayed its approval.

Those homeowners argued the tower would lower property values. Some called it a "monstrosity," and questioned why it couldn't be built at nearby Dolphin Head Golf Course, where it would affect fewer residents, they said.

Two homeowners filed appeals that challenged aspects of town staff's ability to re-zone the land for the tower.

Council passed an ordinance in 2012 allowing staff approval of towers rather than zoning changes that require a public hearing and two council votes.

The ordinance was meant to cut approval time and ease placement within residential areas.

But the appeals slowed that process down, forcing Crown Castle to withdraw its application. Council then took up the matter.

"One thing I feel very confident about is this has been properly vetted," Mayor Drew Laughlin said Tuesday.

Homeowner Brad Wainwright, who filed one of the appeals, declined to comment when reached by telephone after the meeting.

Kristian, the plantation official, said the community has done what it can to accommodate those in opposition.

"We're doing everything we possibly can to make (the tower) blend in," he said.

In response to questions about real estate values, he argued the tower would enhance property worth since cell service is a benefit.

He cited a homeowners' survey that said 83 percent of plantation residents favored the tower.

On the town's website, 397 out of 409 public comments favored it. Twelve opposed.

Pending a final vote by council at its May 13 meeting, Kristian said construction on the tower could begin in June.

It should be in service in the fall, he said.

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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