By the Lady’s Island Business and Professional Association
Beaufort County has received from Mobilitie, a telecommunications infrastructure company, a request to install a 120-foot monopole (tall steel pole) in the right of way of a road (Star Magnolia Drive) leading from Holly Hall Road (S-7-112) into the Magnolia Court community.
The pole, which would serve as a communications tower, would have a 3-foot lighting rod on top of it and be 4-foot wide at the base and capable of withstanding up to 90 mile per hour winds.
Assuming the developer of Magnolia Court has turned the road over to Beaufort County, the decision whether to approve the request could be done at county level versus using the Sams Point right of way, which would involve the South Carolina Department of Transportation.
Based on an October 2016 article by Jim Therrien for VTDIGGER.ORG Mobilitie applied to install a similar telecommunications tower in the town of Bennington, Vt., and their representative provided the following information at that time.
• Mobilitie is the largest privately held telecommunications infrastructure company in the United States.
• Their business model is to be in the public rights of way and they are asserting themselves as a public utility.
• Sites selected for the installation of these utility poles are based on areas where the demand is expected to surge.
This approach of calling itself a public utility similar to sewer and electrical utilities and asking to use the public right of way on which to install 120-foot tall communication towers is a different approach from the usual request for installation of cell towers and will pose some interesting zoning and permitting challenges throughout the United States. The regulations regarding installation of an electrical pole are usually simpler and less restrictive than those for construction of a cell tower. For example, on Lady’s Island, in the Community Preservation District (residential area) where the new tower is being proposed the present zoning clearly states “Commercial communications towers are restricted to the expansion or replacement of an existing tower”. There is an existing 150 foot tower with apparent capacity for additional use located within a mile of the proposed new tower. To provide some idea of what a 120 foot tall utility pole would look like consider the fact that the electrical poles along Sams Point Road are 85 foot tall.
Bennington, Vermont chose to deny the request for a Mobilitie tower in their town. Beaufort County has very specific regulations regarding communication towers but for a company to claim it is a public utility and request to install their tower in the public right of way is a new approach and will require a review of the potential engineering, legal, air traffic safety, zoning and visual impact prior to responding to the request. Beaufort County will give the request such a review. Most likely the municipalities in Beaufort County will receive a similar request from Mobilitie to install a 120 foot tall steel utility pole in a city or town owned right of way.
In today’s world we all want and need a good and solid communication’s infrastructure. If technological advances in the communications field occur to a degree requiring our zoning and permitting regulations to be modified then, as a county and a community, we should be open to discussion of such changes. However, it is a bit difficult to believe putting a 120 foot tall steel pole in the right of way of a road in the Magnolia Court community falls into that category. Rather, it would appear to be an effort to avoid the cost of using existing towers and to bypass local zoning regulations relating to installation of cell towers. The request should be disapproved.