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Shores cell tower work begins; Vero tower will be coming down

Photo: A Bobcat with a Brushmonster starts clearing for the new tower site.

Just as site-clearing work finally began last week for the long-awaited cell tower in the Town of Indian River Shores, the City of Vero Beach is facing a cellular challenge of its own – the need to relocate a cell tower on the Big Blue power plant property that must come down as part of decommissioning.

A little-known, 146-foot tower atop the power plant, that extends a total of 208 feet up into the air, serves Vero Isles, the heart of the city’s commercial district and part of the barrier island. It’s been there since 1993, but was hard to see amidst the stacks and all the other utility equipment on top of the power plant.

The good news is that, with FPL taking over the substation and switching equipment embedded in the plant while a new substation is constructed on the Old Postal Annex property on the southwest corner of 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard, there’s time to get a new tower planned, permitted and built before the old one comes down.

The new tower is expected to be built west of the Citrus Bank building, according to Vero Planning Director Tim McGarry. “The proposed location is just off of the 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard on property that abuts 18th Street,” McGarry said.

That’s east of the Rockridge neighborhood, a large pocket of single-family homes and condos that are not in the city limits but in the unincorporated county.

“It will be a standalone tower,” McGarry said, meaning it will not be another tower placed atop an existing building.

It’s not the appropriate time yet for the Clearwater-based tower contractor Crowne Castle to request approval of a particular site, McGarry said. “They are proposing a 199-foot supporting structure [and] they can’t submit an application until the regulations have been finalized and they hold a neighborhood meeting.”

McGarry explained the pending adjustments to city code in a memo: “The proposed amendment would allow non-stealth antenna-supporting structures to be located in POI (Professional Office Industrial) zoning districts as a conditional use and allow the height of antenna-supporting structures . . . up to 199 feet with conditional use approval.”

“The current maximum height for both stealth and non-stealth antenna-supporting structures is 100 feet,” he added.

A map of the city’s zoning districts shows where future towers might be permitted, if necessary.

There are pockets of Professional Office and Industrial zoning around the city, with most of it centered around Route 60 in the western half of the city.

Industrial zoning is present on and around the Vero Beach Regional Airport property, in the area of the city’s power and wastewater plants, east of the Indian River County complex and along U.S. 1 from the airport to about 22nd Street.

There’s also a large, industrial-zoned area on both sides of U.S. 1 from the Historic Downtown district south to the city limits.

The proposed code amendment would prohibit any attempt at camouflaging the tower as a pine tree, like the one Shores’ contractor Datapath Tower is building next to the Town’s Public Safety Department.

McGarry told the council that a “monopine” tower clad with artificial tree limbs would not be consistent with the surrounding vegetation and would look rather silly popping out of the existing tree canopy, so the new tower in Vero will be an old-school monopole that looks like what it is – a tall structure designed to support cellular phone company antennas.

Any tower built higher than 100 feet in Vero would be required to have the capacity for at least three carriers, a provision added by the city’s Planning and Zoning Board when it unanimously approved Crowne Castle’s request on Oct. 5 and recommended the City Council make the changes necessary to replace the tower and maintain cell service.