The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 22, 1999


Proposed cell tower bylaw limits location to public land

The planning board hosted a public hearing on October 12 for a proposed amendment to Section 5.9 of the zoning bylaws, commercial wireless communication facilities. Paul Gill of the wireless communications advisory committee (WCAC) gave a brief presentation before discussion was opened to the public.

Gill explained that the current bylaw is three years old and was unable to protect Carlisle against the recent One River Road situation. Voters called for a six-month moratorium by a vote of 166-7 at the spring Town Meeting and the WCAC, comprised of Gill, Don Allen, Dave Willard, and Lucinda Cutrer, was formed. Allen, architect of the new bylaw, submitted a draft to the selectmen, board of appeals (BOA), and planning board on September 17 for their review.

The proposed bylaw will require each telecom applicant to demonstrate the existence of a coverage problem and simplicity of the solution being proposed. It will establish setbacks from homes and schools and limit the height of towers. The bylaw also encourages independent testing and monitoring.

If a need is confirmed, Gill emphasized, it doesn't automatically justify a new cell tower. The facility order of preference is as follows:

· Install simple repeater(s) on the telephone poles

· Add an antenna to an unmodified existing tower

· Add height to an existing tower

· Add a new tower where one already exists


The tricky part comes next. Where will the cell towers be located and how will they appear? Gill affirmed that cell tower location will be limited to publicly owned land.

Towers must be set back 900 feet from existing or permitted residence, school or child-care facility, or historic structure. Antennas go only on monopole towers and the tower height is limited to 55 feet or 10 feet above the tree canopy.

The board of selectmen will be the executive regulatory authority and will establish a regulatory board to review all wireless applications and proposals. Regulatory duties range from assuring that a preferable method is being proposed to making sure that a new facility complies with FCC regulations. Periodic monitoring of radio frequencies, acoustical noise, and physical condition is recommended. Either the board of appeals or planning board will ultimately grant the special permits.

Gill concluded his presentation by describing the next steps for the WCAC. First, they will consider all citizen input from the public hearing. Then, they intend to explore the possibility of splitting the text into two parts: substantive legal requirements, and rules and regulations. Finally, they will take the final draft to town meeting on November 2 for a vote.

Questions, concerns

Michael Bleday of Elizabeth Ridge immediately asked, "What is the rationale for splitting the text into two parts?" Gill explained that they hope to make the 18-page bylaw easier to understand by dividing it into substantive legal requirements for approval at Town Meeting and a separate "Rules and Regulations."

Most of the people in the audience had just two questions: how many locations in town meet the qualifications and will a cell tower be located in my back yard. Gill was reluctant to reveal the potential sites since "this is like giving away the answer to a homework problem." Although the WCAC has used a compass and pencil to estimate the number and location of several sites, it is an inexact process and not accurate enough to justify alarming the nearby residents. Other than such obvious locations as the O'Rourke property and Great Brook Farm State Park (with their accompanying federal and state restrictions), Gill preferred that the telecoms do their own homework.

Under the proposed new bylaw, every parcel of publicly owned land will be fair game for a tower, but any such tower will have to be set back at least 900 feet from every house.

This produced a series of anguished pleas, particularly from the residents of Elizabeth Ridge in the vicinity of the department of public works. Finally, Allen put everything in perspective. "The existing bylaw provides no protection whatsoever to Elizabeth Ridge. The new bylaw we are proposing here provides more protectionElizabeth Ridge is certainly in better shape with the new bylaw."

Planning board member Michael Epstein complimented the advisory group on their effort and asked, "How does 'only publicly owned land' differ from the present bylaw?" Gill said that examples of locations presently allowed include church steeples and locations within the zoned business district. "What we're eliminating is private non-profit and zoned business district locations. Public land stays the same," said Gill. "Public land includes both state and federal properties."

Dave Duren of Bedford Road was probably the only person in the Clark Room who actually wants a cell tower in his backyard. "How legal is it for only the town to profit from a cell tower?" he asked. "You don't want to over-regulate and have a judge decide it." He pointed out that testing on his property has proven it to be superior, because of elevation, to many of the publicly owned sites. Allen explained that the town has to walk a fine line between where a tower might go and federal law. "We can't discriminate between cell companies, but we want tower locations that have the least impact on the town."

BOA chair Terry Herndon summed up the discussion by saying, "We're under the gun as a town. Once the moratorium expires, we resort back to what we have, which is like a sieve. You'll never find a perfect solution. We can't please everyone." The public hearing will be continued at the next meeting of the planning board on October 25 at 8:30.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito