Friday, October 29, 1999
Article 3: Proposed tower bylaw no longer limited to public land
Warrant Article 3 attempts to amend the zoning bylaws of the town by deleting the current three-year-old communications bylaw, section 5.9, and replacing it with a new wireless communications bylaw. Voters called for a six-month moratorium by a vote of 166-7 at the spring Town Meeting, and the wireless communications advisory committee (WCAC), comprised of Paul Gill, Don Allen, Dave Willard, and Lucinda Cutrer, was formed.
Allen, architect of the new bylaw, submitted copies of the 18-page amendment to the selectmen, board of appeals (BOA), planning board, and town counsel prior to two public hearings hosted by the planning board on October 12 and 25. Gill presented highlights of the bylaw at each hearing before discussion was opened to the public.
The proposed cell tower bylaw requires that each telecom applicant demonstrate the existence of a coverage/capacity problem and prove simplicity of the solution being proposed. It establishes setbacks from homes and schools and limits the height of towers to only what's necessary. The bylaw also requires 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:
1. Install simple repeater(s) on the telephone poles
2. Add base-station antenna to an existing tower
3. Add height to an existing tower for a new antenna
4. locate a second tower with an existing tower
5. Open up a new site across town
Towers must be set back 900 feet from an existing or permitted residence, school or child-care facility, or historic structure. Antennas can go only on monopole towers and the tower height in an open area is initially limited to 80 feet and can grow to 120 feet. Tower height in a wooded area is initially limited to 10 feet above the tree canopy and can grow to a total of 150 feet.
A wireless applications advisory committee (WAAC) will be formed to review all wireless applications and proposals. Earlier indecision as to whether the BOA or planning board will be the permit-granting authority is now resolved and the planning board, advised by the WAAC, will ultimately grant the special permits. The board's job is to assure that the applicant's coverage/capacity is not already adequate, that mere modifications to the existing facilities aren't satisfactory, that the proposed facility minimizes adverse impact on the town, and that the operational facility complies with FCC regulations. The board also will assure that periodic monitoring of radio frequencies, acoustical noise, and physical condition gets accomplished.
Changes to bylaw
Several major changes have been made to the proposed bylaw since the first public hearing on October 12. These revisions were the result of comments from the planning board, town counsel, and the public. The most salient difference is that the bylaw no longer limits cell tower locations to public land. Town counsel advised that limiting the towers in this manner would jeopardize approval of the bylaw by the attorney general. Virtually all of Carlisle is zoned residential and narrowing the tower locations to publicly owned land would be interpreted as discriminating against residential landowners. Regulation by ownership suggests unlawful spot zoning and may violate the equal protection clause of the constitution.
Residents are still protected by the 900-foot setback (from an existing or a permitted residence) requirement, which remains unchanged. This is now augmented by a setback requirement of 1.5 times the maximum tower height from the cell tower property line. Noise limits have also been added to the proposed cell tower bylaw. The noise level must be less than 50 decibels (dB) and no permanent diesel generators are allowed. Transportable generators are allowed during sustained power outages and are exempt from the 50-dB limit.
A major concern at the first public hearing on October 12 was, "Will a cell tower be located in my back yard?" The WCAC disclosed several potential sites, but felt it was like giving away the answer to a homework problem, and they preferred that the telecoms do their own homework. Residents of Elizabeth Ridge, in the vicinity of the department of public works, were particularly alarmed but Allen reminded residents that 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."
Now that cell towers can be located anywhere in town, attention at the second public hearing on October 25 focused on "sight-blight" and visibility. Planning board member Dan Holzman, an engineer who designs cell towers, believes that "stealth" should be the goal. "Invisibly wire the whole town," he declared. Holzman recommended hiding the towers in a church steeple or flagpole. "How many of you are aware of the cell tower on Route 495 near the Bolton line? It's disguised as a tree!" Gill expressed reluctance to make major changes to the bylaw at the last minute, but Holzman was not deterred. "We have to change it now. Next spring Town Meeting is too late. There will be a huge monopole by then. You are paving the path to monopoles!"
Planning board members Michael Abend and Michael Epstein offered to meet with the WCAC prior to Town Meeting to discuss further modifications of the bylaw. Abend moved that the planning board draft a report for Town Meeting stating that the proposed new bylaw is a vast improvement over the existing bylaw, but amendments are necessary to resolve siting issues and visual impact. The board approved the motion by a vote of 6-0.
At the first public hearing, Terry Herndon, chair of the BOA, 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." It now remains for town residents to decide the fate of the cell tower bylaw amendment, Article 3 of the town Warrant, at the Special Town Meeting on November 2.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito