Friday, August 27, 1999
Cell tower advisory investigating alternatives, town-owned sites
The board of selectmen have handed a millenium-sized assignment to the recently appointed wireless communications advisory committee. At least so it sounded to those listening to an account of the group's ongoing activities at the August 5 Carlisle Conservation Commission meeting.
The advisory committee was formed following a vote at the May 11 Town Meeting which mandated a six-month moratorium on issuance of cell tower permits. It has since been charged by the selectmen with drafting a new bylaw that will adequately protect the interests of the town and its residents while conforming to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The process includes a rundown of existing bylaws in comparable towns, a review of proposals received to date from cell tower vendors, an evaluation of feasible sites, coordination with other town bodies and the holding of public hearingsall this to be accomplished in time for a fall Special Town Meeting.
Alternatives to towers
As explained to ConsCom by committee chair Paul Gill, the act does not specifically state that a community must accept a cell tower. It does say that a town cannot "exclude" the telecommunications vendors from "providing service" in an area.This might make it possible to hook into a high power facility in another town and offer service through "repeaters" situated locally. Committee member Lucinda Cutrer noted that Carlisle is "ringed" by cell tower communities, Chelmsford alone being host to 27 facilities. "We are hoping to be able to tie into one or more of those," she said.
ConsCom member Tricia Smith sought clarification on two counts; first, whether communication facilities are regulated as utilities, and second, the nature of a "repeater." The answer to the first concern was, "Yes, it is treated as a utility." As for the second, a repeater is a smaller facility that takes a signal from a high tower elsewhere and distributes it within a lower area, thus extending the scope of the cell.
The discussion of alternatives was expanded by Donald Allen, who has studied both the 1996 act and bylaws already passed by other rural communities. He stressed that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the act as well as considerable ambiguity in its text. "Case law is developing; communities are getting smarter, and, in some cases, are winning in court. We just want to assure that we [Carlisle residents] keep as much control as possible," he indicated.
Gill emphasized that as a committee, members have to find a balance between the town's interests and the requirements of the act. Complicating that problem is the need to determine whether parcels deemed suitable have any deed restrictions that might make their use difficult or even impossible.
Use of conservation land
The task of evaluating locations has fallen primarily to Cutrer, who, to date, has concentrated on town-owned parcels of 75 acres or more, following up on the selectmen's expressed interest in their potential as tower sites. She noted that these parcels are large enough to preclude towers springing up in someone's backyard, a major committee consideration. This is a matter in which Cutrer sought help from the commission, since they control the Greenough and Towle Lands and Foss Farm, all of which have the acreage to qualify.
ConsCom chair Jo Rita Jordan informed Cutrer that the commission would have to rule out land designated specifically as conservation land, since such tracts are dedicated to "conservation and passive recreation." Foss Farm would be the most logical of the three largest tracts since it was acquired as a "multi-use" area. However, because it was also purchased in part with state funding, the legislature would need to approve any change in use. Opposition might also come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because the farm lies within two miles of the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge, and cell towers don't match any of their acceptable uses.
Smith inquired as to why the committee was looking only at town-owned land, since there are several privately-owned properties that qualify as to size. Allen agreed that such parcels are a possibility, but again stressed concern about a tower encroaching on someone's backyard vista. Gill assured the commission that private land was not being eliminated as a possibility. "We're just trying to categorize parcels," he explained.
Other ConsCom business
The board approved a notice of intent from applicants Allen and Risha Deary, allowing them to raise the elevation of their driveway by about seven inches and install a retaining wall to stabilize a turnaround next to their garage. Deary presented the plans himself at both the original hearing and this continuance.
Conservation administrator Katrina Proctor informed the board that she and board of health agent Linda Fantasia had been summoned to appear August 16 for a deposition in the case of Lewiston Ward of Sebago, Maine versus William Costello, Senkler Real Estate, Senkler Hunneman Real Estate and versus James E. Parent. Town officials were ordered to "have available all documents" pertaining to Chapter 61 transactions covering the 57-acre property on Cross Street owned by Ward. According to a February interview with the plaintiff's attorney Joel Eigerman of Roche, Carens and Giacomo, the case involves a series of contracts entered into between Ward and Costello.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito