Orange County denies Horizon West cell tower

The proposed 150-foot monopole communications tower would have been located on the Sutton Lakes planned development off Avalon Road.

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  • | 12:15 p.m. September 9, 2020
The tower would have been located south of Hartzog Road and east of Avalon Road. (Courtesy)
The tower would have been located south of Hartzog Road and east of Avalon Road. (Courtesy)
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Plans for a 150-foot monopole communication tower off Avalon Road were rejected Orange County commissioners.

County leaders on Tuesday, Sept. 1, discussed the request for a Planned Development/Land Use Plan change determination, which would permit the tower on a portion of its parent parcel, the Sutton Lakes PD. The applicant  also requested a waiver to reduce the minimum separation requirement — currently 1,050 feet — of a communication tower from single-family homes to 635 feet.

The nearly 139-acre Sutton Lakes parcel is located north of Arrowhead Boulevard, east of Avalon Road and south of Hartzog Road. Currently, it holds entitlements for 20,000 square feet of commercial uses and 700 attached and detached single-family homes. The tower would be located on a 40-foot-by-50-foot lease parcel within the Sutton Lakes PD.

“Vertical Bridge is the company that will have the lease area and own and operate the tower with Verizon Wireless as the anchor tenant on the tower,” said James Johnston, of Shutts & Bowen LLP, who represented the applicant. “This tower is being requested and is necessary communication infrastructure that’s needed by Verizon Wireless to fill a coverage and capacity gap in the area that will otherwise not be covered without the approval of this application.”

Johnston said the closest existing tower to this site is 1.36 miles away.

“All of the towers in the area are much taller than this proposed tower — they’re 180 to 250 feet tall,” said Johnston, who added the 150-foot height of the proposed tower was the minimum required by Verizon. “We believe this is proposed in the most appropriate area of the Sutton Lakes PD. The lease area is what was agreed to by the property area, and that also works for Verizon. As we have seen during the pandemic … having good, reliable wireless service is vitally important to the community. This is true as more and more people use smartphones and wireless devices for their daily activities. The need is not just to have a signal, but it’s to deal with the increased data needs that everyone has.”

The project received some opposition from neighbors, including Russell Fairchild and his aunt, Jane Fairchild, who together own the adjacent property. Russell Fairchild said they have owned the property since 1950 and currently have a contract on it. He said the tower was slated to be built 40 feet from — and in the center of — their property line, which would be problematic for the pending contract.

“Our developer … has stated — and I have no reason to doubt her — that essentially they will walk on the deal if the tower goes up, which makes sense,” Russell Fairchild said. “They want to built a class-A condo/hotel on the property with multiple restaurants, retail, hotel — which means jobs and revenue for the county. All that essentially would go away.”

“Placing a tower on the adjacent property denies the experience tourists and residents are looking for,” Jane Fairchild said. “The location of the proposed tower reduces and/or eliminates the visual aesthetics tourists come to expect.”

Because others also have opposed the tower because of aesthetics, Johnston said, the applicant is willing to provide camouflage panels for the tower to cover the antennas and provide a cleaner look. He added the proposed location was the most optimal for both the property owner and Verizon.

District 1 Commissioner Betsy VanderLey said she could understand why the property owners selected the proposed location, because it preserves maximum use of their property while having the lease in place. However, she said, it still feels “entirely too close” to the neighboring property.

“The first thing I learned when I got on Planing and Zoning was to try and make decisions that affirmed your property rights without damaging your neighbor’s property rights and value, so I do have some concern about their choice of location right adjacent to the neighboring property,” she said.

Commissioners unanimously denied the request based on the tower’s proposed location.


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