Anyone who has lived in Wellington knows there are some places in the village where no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to get a strong cellphone signal.
You can spin in circles. You can walk from one side of the street to the other. You can try wandering to the far side of your dentist’s parking lot. It won’t make a difference.
For years, Wellington officials have heard from residents who lament the pockets of poor cell signal that plague the village.
Now, there might be a solution.
Wellington’s Village Council on Jan. 10 unanimously approved updated regulations for cellphone towers, to provide pre-approved locations for new cell towers on some pieces of village property, along with refreshed design criteria for the towers themselves.
The old rules for cellphone towers were “pretty draconian” and date back to the early 2000s, when the towers were constructed differently, Wellington Planning, Zoning and Building Director Tim Stillings told council members at their December meeting.
The towers used to require guide wires as part of their design, with the idea being they could topple to one side. Now, towers are built to collapse down into themselves, Stillings said.
With the change in design, it isn’t necessary to make sure the towers have such a wide radius. The updated ordinance reduces the necessary space between the tower and nearby residential land from 400 feet or 250% of the tower height, whichever is greater, to 110% of the tower height.
Recently, a cellphone tower development company reached out to Wellington and proposed an agreement where the company would market village property to build new cellphone towers, and then go to cell carriers to build on the property, Stillings said. The village would hold a ground lease.
“They would get money from carriers, and then we would get a percentage of revenue from those leases,” Stillings told me before the Jan. 10 meeting.
When Wellington’s staff looked at where gaps in coverage were reported, they noticed the village owned property central to some of those spots, Stillings said. “And if we really want to have an active role in helping to fix the issues, then we should put some skin in the game,” he said.
The locations on the map preliminarily approved by the council:
- The Wellington Environmental Preserve at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Everglades Habitat on Flying Cow Road
- Community Park on South Shore Boulevard (the old Boys & Girls Club)
- Greenview Shores Park next to the Wellington Dog Park
- Village Park, near the 120th Avenue entrance
- Town Center, near the Wellington Community Center on Forest Hill Boulevard
- Wellington Green Park near the Mall at Wellington Green
- Wellington’s Tennis Center on Lyons Road
- A strip of property Wellington owns that runs along the north and east sides of the Palm Beach Central High School campus
Wellington’s staff reached out to the three major carriers – AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile – to see if there is anything the carriers can do to improve coverage in the village. According to a staff report, AT&T told Wellington their coverage is adequate, while Verizon and T-Mobile admitted there is room for improvement.
(I’d like to say that as an AT&T user, there definitely are gaps out here. But anyway …)
There are seven cellphone towers in Wellington, and many more small-cell antennas, which you might recognize if you see something that looks like a trash can on top of a power pole.
All three carriers have plans to improve infrastructure in our area, Stillings told me. “It’s just that Wellington, being only a population of 65,000 on basically the edge of the Everglades … we’re kind of low their priority list,” he said. “We’re trying to do what we can do to elevate that.”
Being on the edge of the Everglades also poses a challenge to cover the very edges of town, where investment from a carrier would only cover roughly half of what it would elsewhere, Stillings said.
The council had made improving cellphone signal in Wellington a priority following the 2022 Directions Workshop.
“This well may be the most important thing on this agenda today,” Councilman John McGovern said at the Jan. 10 council meeting.
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