EASTON — Residents of Tilghman soon will have better cellphone coverage after the Talbot County Planning Commission Wednesday, Aug. 7, approved the site plan for a tower on the property of Tilghman United Methodist Church.
For 20 years, Van Thompson, president of TARA Communications, has tried to get a cell tower on Tilghman, he said.
“Every carrier has been trying to get a tower up there. I’ve failed three times before today,” Thompson said.
This time, the tower is concealed as a bell tower and that made all the difference, he said.
Thompson is tasked now with building the most attractive structure possible or any project of its kind will have no chance in the future, Planning Commissioner Michael Sullivan said.
The Tilghman tower will connect with a newly approved tower in Bozman and existing towers in St. Michaels and Wades Point to provide continuous coverage along both peninsulas.
Verizon is the first carrier, but AT&T and T-Mobile will follow quickly, with Sprint likely the last on board, Thompson said.
The connecting towers will eliminate the abundance of dropped calls in the area, he said, without constructing additional towers in Neavitt and Sherwood.
The structure is planned to be 94 feet tall and 19-by-19 feet at the base. While the bottom 40 feet will be clad in standard building material, the top will feature a new material permeable to radio frequencies but not distinguishable from the standard in texture or color.
There was confusion about the use of a T1-11 exterior to which some residents were opposed, but T1-11 was never part of the plan; the product was identified to provide a point of reference in the proposal, Thompson said.
The tower was contested by neighbors of the church on Tilghman Island Road who said it would devalue their property and provide an unsightly view.
It was passed by a 3-1 vote, with Chairman Thomas Hughes dissenting and William Boicourt absent.
“We can’t win,” said Sullivan. “Everyone wants service, no one wants to see a tower.”
Hughes said he would prefer the tower be located at the wastewater treatment site owned by the county. If it has to be at the church, he said the mono-pole “6-foot gray pole is far less obnoxious” than the bell tower design planned for the site.
Paul Spies said although the mono-pole is smaller in stature, it would require fencing at the base, estimated at about 14 feet, to enclose the tower.
Because the tower mechanics are locked inside the structure, the commissioners were able to approve a fence waiver along with the site plan. A locked fence designed to match the tower will enclose a small generator pad adjacent to the tower, but no other fencing will be required.
Perhaps more appropriate sites exist, but the planning commission has no authority to create projects of this nature; it may only approve or deny what is presented, planners said.
It will take a couple months to get through the permitting process, but the project will be on a fast track with anticipated completion in November, Thompson said.
Shauna Thompson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @stardem_biz.