Zoning Board Questions Whether They Should Be Forced to Allow Three Towers Within 300' of Each Other
First- start by reading this news article about how the Cape Elizabeth, ME planners are dealing with a request from Tower Specialists to build a new tower near an existing Crown Castle tower that has already been slated to be torn down and replaced with a new tower on the adjacent property. In the image below, the site to the right is the existing Crown Castle tower which the article indicates will be torn down in 2019. The location to the left is the new Crown Castle tower.
Why would Crown Castle tear down an existing tower and build a new one next door?
Because they couldn't come to agreeable terms with the existing landowner to extend their ground lease on the existing property. We are contacted regularly by landowners for proposed Crown Castle leases and the first thing we look at is whether there is an existing Crown Castle tower near the proposed location to see whether this is occurring. Most of the time we find that there are existing towers nearby. In some cases, Crown is moving the tower because the existing owner is seeking too high of a lease rate for an extension of the lease or because they are no longer willing to lease their land for a tower. In other cases, the existing tower needs substantial structure modifications to accommodate additional equipment and it is cheaper over time from a Capex and Opex standpoint to build a new tower. And in rare cases, we believe Crown Castle will build a new tower out of spite because they don't like the landowner.
To make this even more interesting, if you look at the image below, you will see that there is a second tower on the same property. The Crown Castle tower appears to have 3-4 wireless carriers collocated on it, while the other tower has 1-2. Apparently there are 6 towers on the subject property including some smaller ones not visible in the photos.
So, I Get Why Crown Castle Is Building a Tower, But Why Is a Third One Proposed?
Good question. We heard directly from the property owner who is also a tower developer. He shared with us that he did tell Crown that the family wasn't going to renew the lease. He proposed the new tower after Crown submitted to relocate the existing tower on the adjacent property.
The property owner in the article suggests that the carriers all want to be at 180' (even though only one carrier was at that height previously on the existing tower). The Town Board has required him to come back with detailed RF propagation maps that show that the carriers all have to have 180' as justification for a third tower here. While I am sure that the property owner can find a radio frequency engineer that will provide maps that purport to show a difference – there really isn't a significant one between 170' and 180' especially since those carriers who are lower than 180' on the existing tower already built the nearby cell sites in their network to match up with the coverage from this tower and vice versa.
How Do Landowners Know if They Are Pushing Too Hard?
Unfortunately, signing a backup lease with an adjacent property owner is now standard operating procedure for tower companies when negotiating an extension of an existing tower lease. The tower companies will take the term sheet they negotiate and show it to the stubborn landowner as demonstration of their willingness to move the tower. For landowners who are approached for a new lease, we advise they consider the possibility that they will spend time negotiating and finalizing a lease and money on hiring an attorney or a consultant or both to review the lease while not getting anything in return. For landowners who have an existing tower on their property, the "equation" for whether you are asking for too much is a difficult one because it depends upon the following variables:
1. Cost to relocate the tower
2. Probable lease rate on alternative site location
3. Probability of success of getting zoning and other regulatory approvals
4. Ownership of the tower (does the tower company own the tower or does the carrier)
5. Number and identify of carriers on the existing tower
6. Time remaining until expiration
7. How much you are asking for
8. How difficult you have been to negotiate with in the past
Whether you have been approached for a new cell tower lease near an existing tower or you have an existing tower lease where you are negotiating for an extension, we can help. Give us a call to discuss further or contact us here.