By Craig Westcott | The Pearl
Lucy Stoyles was the only member of Mount Pearl council who voted against a proposal earlier this month to erect a telecommunications tower on Commonwealth Avenue.
The application for the 155-foot high structure was from Eastlink, a major wireless communications provider in Atlantic Canada.
"It's going to be located in the back yard perhaps of 201 to 203 Commonwealth Avenue," said councillor Andrew Ledwell, noting the structure will have an "anti-climb" apparatus to protect it and will sit on a three metre by two metre base enclosed within a 12 metre by 12 metre fenced-in area.
The zoning for the area is Commercial/Mixed. The location is near storage units going towards the end of Commonwealth Avenue on the Brookfield Road side.
"As we know the majority of the properties (in the area) are commercial industries or light industrial uses," Ledwell noted. "This particular tower is a discretionary use."
The application was originally submitted in the fall of 2017, which spurred a review within City Hall as to how it looks at such proposals, Ledwell said.
"There was a public consultation process that was undertaken at the time when we first received the application," Ledwell added. "We scheduled a briefing session for Nov. 7, 2017, as well as circulated notices to all residents within the 150-metre radius of the proposed tower. We didn't receive any commentary and therefore the briefing session was cancelled."
Ledwell said the application has been referred to the various government departments that have a say in the erection of such facilities. After much discussion at council's planning committee, he added, it is recommending to council that the tower be approved.
"It is a discretionary use and of course if council supports the tower the colour, location and design of the tower as well as the landscaping in the area and on the site have to be considered," Ledwell said.
Stoyles seconded Ledwell's motion to approve the tower, but only so that a discussion could be had about it. "I certainly will be speaking against the motion," said Stoyles. "I know we need technology and we need towers."
But Stoyles said the application initially came in for a location behind Mount Pearl Square on Topsail Road and it was turned down. "Then the planning department tried to look at what areas in the city we could actually put these towers in. Our staff did a great job over the past number of months working with Eastlink and communications people looking at where towers could go."
Stoyles said she has a couple of issues with the proposal. First off, she said, such towers should be erected out on the highway, on Pitts Memorial Drive, outside residential areas. "The second thing is, even if we vote no, Industry Canada could turn around and say the tower is going to go wherever they want it. Even though we're voting, they have the final decision."
The councillor said another issue she has is with the number of households that were contacted for their response to the application. "Where the tower is going there's not a whole lot of people within the scope of where we would send out the notices," she said. "So nobody came, because nobody got the notices." Stoyles said the notices should have been sent to a wider radius around the tower to take in more streets.
"I just can't justify voting in favour of it, so I'll be voting against it," Stoyles concluded.
Mayor Dave Aker said his understanding is that Industry Canada will generally follow the wishes of the municipality.
"Not always," said Stoyles.
"But in our experience here in Mount Pearl, I don't think they've ever authorized one without our blessing or cooperation," Aker replied.
Deputy Mayor Jim Locke said he appreciates Stoyles' points. "My thinking on this is we worked with industry and … we basically said, 'We'll identify the areas that are better suited for this, rather than the residential neighbourhoods. The one behind Mount Pearl Square would have been right in the residential neighbourhood… Where this is located in the general commercial (area) to me is an ideal situation from intrusiveness. Now it's going to be 43 metres, which is going to be a tall tower, but again, we do need the technology... If we want the increased service and bandwidths and the high level of service that our residents are desiring, we have to put in the infrastructure. It has to go somewhere.... So, I'm in support of this particular application."
Ledwell agreed with Locke. "I'm all for protecting people's privacy and the character of our neighbourhoods, but ultimately we all carry devices like this in our pocket," he said. "Rightly or wrongly, this is the way the world works these days and we are often complaining if the network doesn't work. So, the fact of the matter is we need these types of towers whether they are sightly to look at or not, frankly. And we have to be willing to work with Industry Canada and the various companies in the industry to find places that are suitable for these types of telecommunications towers."
Situating such a tower in a commercial and industrial area on Commonwealth Avenue is probably among the best places in the city for such infrastructure, he added. "That's why I'm bringing in the motion today and that's why I'm going to be voting in support of it."
Put to the vote, the motion to approve the tower was approved with Stoyles offering the lone nay.