By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer
(Dec. 6, 2018) No Verizon cell tower will be erected on county property in Ocean Pines, following the Worcester County Commissioners’ rejection Tuesday of a lease agreement that fell far short of what the commissioners expected.
The tower, which would have been built and owned by the Calvert County company, Calvert Crosslands, for use by Verizon, also was supposed to provide space for the county’s own communications devices.
At Tuesday’s meeting in Snow Hill, however, the commissioners learned the county had been allotted just four feet on the 160-foot tall mast, even though its height had been raised to that level from the original 127 feet to accommodate the extra gear.
The five-year lease agreement, as explained by Public Works Director John T. Tustin, would have been between the county and Calvert Crosslands, which would have sub-leased space on the tower to Verizon and other companies. The county’s arrangement was that it would be allowed to use the tower at no charge, and receive a first year rent of $20,000, with 2 percent rent increases every year thereafter.
Upon hearing that the space allotment was not what they expected, Commissioners Jim Bunting and Chip Bertino all but killed the deal.
“After looking at the lease, first I want to state that I will not vote for this lease,” Bunting said. He also acknowledged that it was his request to increase the height of the tower so the county could use it.
“Basically that four feet is useless,” Bunting said.
He added that he was concerned that the county would be leasing to Crosslands and not Verizon, with the former having the right to sub-lease to other entities besides the phone company, while the county received no additional benefit.
“It just doesn’t work for me,” Bunting said. “It doesn’t work at all.”
In addition, both Bunting and Bertino said they had heard from numerous Ocean Pines residents who objected to the tower’s placement.
Bunting also stressed that even though the lease was being discussed, the project itself had not been approved and still had to go before the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals for height and setback hearings.
“I think Verizon needs to look for another site outside of Ocean Pines,” he said, drawing support from Bertino.
“I’m not going to vote for it either,” Bertino said. “I don’t think it has a place in our community.”
Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic followed by deferring to Bunting and Bertino, in whose districts the tower would be located. Because the towner’s purpose would be to provide cell coverage of a dead zone along the Route 90 corridor, he suggested the company look at locations such as the Isle of Wight Wildlife Management Area between the Route 90 and St. Martin’s River bridges on Route 90.
When Barb Pivec, a partner for Calvert Crosslands, took to the podium to clarify the company’s situation, what came out was more like a sales pitch that brought a quick rebuke from Bertino.
“Excuse me. Excuse me,” Bertino said. “With all due respect, I feel as if we’re getting a presentation, here and that’s not part of what we’re here for today.”
Bunting moved to reject both the lease and the tower’s proposed location, with a second by Bertino. The measure passed 4-0, with the support of Commissioners Diana Purnell and Mitrecic, and Commissioners Bud Church, Ted Elder and Joshua Nordstrom abstaining.