Sunday, October 1, 2023

Leland increases max cell tower height, allows RV parks in hazard zones

Though at first, it was an option, no tax increase is proposed in Leland for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. (Port City Daily/File)
Leland Town Council updated its ordinances with an increase in maximum height of cell towers and removing language barring RV parks in flood hazard zones. (Port City Daily/file)

LELAND — Cell towers can stand a bit taller in Leland after a Thursday decision by the town council.

READ MORE: ‘Correct a mistake’: Leland planning board approves RV parks in flood-prone areas

The council unanimously approved increasing the maximum height of wireless structures in the town to 199 feet, up from 150. Jonathan Yates, a partner in South-Carolina based law firm Hellman & Yates, submitted a text amendment application July 26 requesting the town make the change.

Yates told council the reason for the request is, over the years, his firm has worked directly with homeowners associations in planned unit developments (PUD) looking for better wireless coverage for their residents.

Prior to the approved amendment, wireless facilities in Leland were only allowed in commercial and industrial districts.

The update adds them as a permitted use in PUD districts, which allow “greater flexibility than would be normally allowed in a particular residential district,” per the town’s ordinances. Other uses allowed in PUD-zoned areas are veterinary clinics, contractors, ABC stores, hotels, shops, bowling alleys, medical facilities and most types of residences among others.

The wireless towers still need to meet town permitting requirements, including buffers from surrounding development and fall zones to protect other structures.

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Campbell asked if existing PUDs, pointing to Grayson Park as an example, could prevent a cell tower from being built in their developments.

The answer from Planning Supervisor Andrew Neylonr: Grayson Park’s homeowners association owns the land, so in its case the homeowners would have a say.

“Typically when you’re doing that you’re dealing with the homeowners association, and typically where they asked us to go was some residual property or a maintenance area or a support area,” Yates said.

He noted it has become more common for developers to come to his firm from the outset and designate possible tower sites to cover the neighborhood.

“You have PUDs, you have a lot of PUDs coming, what we want to do for those folks is wireless is now considered the fourth utility,” Yates said. “We want to be able to provide that infrastructure to those folks.”

He also pitched better cell coverage as a boon for public safety. He said in his home county about 84% of 911 calls come from wireless devices and good cell service is a selling point for realtors.

The towers are “over designed” to withstand catastrophic weather, Yates stated. He added cell towers mostly survived Hurricane Katrina except for those hit by debris-turned-projectiles like pieces of boats.

In Brunswick County, for example, towers are typically made to endure winds up to 145 miles per hour. Yates said if winds exceed that number, the failure mode for the towers is to bend slightly at the top like a folded straw rather than fall over. In that case a tower would need to be replaced.

No members of the public signed up to speak at the public hearing on the issue.

Leland Town policy dictates it must consider text amendment requests from third parties. The town planning board unanimously recommended approval Aug. 22.

The height change moves Leland more in line with surrounding areas as it continues to annex more land at the behest of developers. As of June 2023, the town had annexed 3,459 acres in 12 months. 

ALSO: Leland annexation moratorium back on table, GA to review Oak Island parking proceeds

Maximum heights for cell towers in unincorporated areas of Brunswick County range from 200 to 300 feet depending on the zoning district. There is no maximum height in New Hanover County. and Wilmington caps its towers at 200 feet, though they must be no more than 20 feet higher than the maximum building height in the district unless they are camouflaged.

RV parks in hazard zones

Leland also discussed changes to recreational vehicle parks. After a monthslong back-and-forth with Evolve Acquisitions, the council agreed to modify its ordinances for regulating RV parks, with a tradeoff in regulatory power.

Council denied a request to strike language that bars RV parks from special flood hazard zones in May but put the amendment back on the table in July.

RV parks will now be allowed in commercial zoning districts on a conditional basis rather than by-right. Conditional zonings require site plans, community meetings, and the town may place special guidelines on a project to approve it.

However, RV sites will now technically be allowed in special flood hazard areas, where they were previously banned. 

There are also new special requirements for RVs located in hazard areas, including grading to prevent standing water. Also, a vehicle can not remain in a park for more than 180 days, it must be fully licensed and ready for highway use, have no permanent additions and use quick-disconnect utility lines.

Sam Franck, an attorney hired by the applicant, told the board not all hazard areas pose equal threats, nor are projects within them equivalent.

“The change that’s been proposed today allows the town and the land owner to cooperate to incorporate appropriate conditions for any RV park that would go into a flood hazard area,” Franck said. “So, what’s the flood zone? Is it a high-velocity flood zone or [a federal high-risk flood area]? And what’s the evacuation situation look like?”

Franck said the 180-day restriction is critical because it ensures the parks do not become permanent residential areas.

Jeff Martins, the lone speaker during the public hearing on the issue, pushed back on the change.

“I am not against RV parks in the town, but I am against putting RV owners and town employees at risk in a natural disaster when that risk could be easily avoided,” Martins said.

The board unanimously approved the update.

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