Hilton Head Island officials are coming up with some common-sense ways to improve cellphone coverage on the island.
One of the most promising is a rules change for modifying a gated community's land-use plan to allow new towers on nonresidential property. No longer would it be a zoning change, requiring public hearings and Planning Commission and Town Council votes. Instead, it would be considered a minor change that could be approved by a town administrator.
That could cut approval time from nine months to two to three months.
Bad cellphone coverage has been a focus for the town for two years now. A special task force reported to Town Council in December that wireless carriers are not spending money to improve service here because approval for new towers takes too long and rules about where and how they can be built are too restrictive.
Importantly, the public would still have to be notified, and the tower would have to meet design standards.
Shea Farrar, senior town planner, points out that getting better cellphone coverage in areas behind community gates is one of the biggest challenges.
"A lot of the areas that need improved coverage the worst are in these planned developments, such as inside Port Royal Plantation," Farrar said. "Our hope is to work proactively with the tower companies and the communities' property owners associations to improve wireless service."
This change should answer many concerns.
Another proposal also makes sense: Reducing the distance from homes that towers must be built. That distance would be based on the tower's "fall zone," the area where the tower could fall if it collapsed.
Rules now require towers to be farther from homes than that, which limits where towers can be located.
As Port Royal Plantation resident Judi Shade noted, "The easier they can make it for the gated communities to place cell towers where they see fit, and carriers feel they can make money, the better for residents and people coming to the island."
Our reliance on cellphones and their increasingly important data services continues to grow. Improving those services can only benefit Hilton Head's residents and its business community.