Friday, March 9, 2001
Residents spar with Nextel over cell tower application
Who says town meetings are dull? Fifteen town residents, three cell company employees, three lawyers, and one selectman all attended the March 1 meeting of the Carlisle Board of Appeals (BOA). The full board, chair Terry Herndon, clerk Midge Eliassen, member Scott Batchelder, and associate members Hal Sauer and Shann Kerner heard the revival of Nextel Communications' application to install a wireless communications facility with a100-foot pole at 1 River Road.
Nextel Communications was resubmitting a two-year-old proposal first brought to the board on April 1, 1999. The board had denied without prejudice the application after three long meetings as the lessee of the land, New River Road Realty Trust, had to remove two oil tanks per order of the board of health prior to any further action. Subsequently, oil spillage on the site and Town Meeting activity to draft and pass a wireless communications bylaw further delayed the proposal.
Abutters of the River Road site demanded the BOA refuse to consider the application, as drawings still showed the oil tanks in place, and it did not comply with the new town bylaw which prohibits siting a wireless facility within 900 feet of a residential structure. The proposed site lies only 185 feet from the residence at 44 River Road owned by Dana Booth, according to Nextel. Furthermore, under the bylaw, the distances to the lot line must be 1.5 times the height of the pole (150 feet in this case), requiring Nextel to seek three additional variances for three lot lines only 83, 69, and 134 feet away. Nextel wants a 100-foot pole to enable Sprint to co-locate access at 90 feet. (Omnipoint subsequently indicated interest to co-locate at 80 feet.)
Bill Proia, representing Nextel Communications, described the Carlisle town bylaw as "prohibitive." According to Proia, to meet the 900-foot requirement, any proposed property would need about three acres. "It's very difficult to site a pole and meet our coverage needs," said Proia. "There are very few pieces of property in town available where we would not need a dimensional variance."
Proia and Travis Corder, a lawyer from Brown & Rudnick, the firm that represents Sprint, pointed out that they are in danger of losing their federal telecommunications licenses if they do not establish their wireless networks. At present, there are coverage holes in Carlisle, and many customers driving through town experience dropped calls. Proia and Corder concurred that their wireless networks will probably need about three more sites in town to completely cover the Carlisle area. According to the Federal Wireless Telecommunications Act of 1996, the town must enable communications companies to establish viable networks in town.
Proia presented the Nextel application, explaining that he personally has evaluated about twenty locations on the behalf of the company. Factors he considers important include:
· radio frequency characteristics (network coverage),
· topographical elevation (restrictions imposed by hills and heavy tree lines),
· visual impact to the neighborhood,
· site access, and
· availability of the land for leasing.
Associate member Hal Sauer asked, "Why not consider Foss Farm? It's town-owned land." Proia was quick to respond, "Town-owned land is not available until the town makes it available. A long time has passed. It's no secret where we wanted to co-locate this pole." Selectman Vivian Chaput responded that the wireless advisory committee is in the midst of conducting a review of town land for siting wireless facilities. She made no apology for the time delays, as the members of the committee are volunteers and cannot be expected to devote themselves only to this extensive and time-consuming project. Chaput indicated that four town parcels are under discussion and added, "Foss Farm may have conservation issues that cannot be overcome."
Herndon pointed out that the oil tanks justified the time delay in considering the application, and carefully praised the continued committee work. "The town has not taken a stance that you cannot have a monopole," he said. "We are not saying, 'You can't put it in Carlisle'."
The volume rose once the discussion was opened to the floor. Abutter Booth raised numerous issues:
· Requested elimination of Sprint as a hearing applicant because the company was not a filer on the original application.
· Objected to Nextel showing his 44 River Road property at a distance of 185 feet, when he believes it to be 160 feet.
· Asked about the oil tanks on the plan.
· Questioned why the plan does not show the size of the substructure, which may be as large as a 20-by-30 foot rectangle..
· Flagged no indication of site parking (the proposed facility will reduce 44 spaces now present).
· Pointed out this would increase the non-conforming status of an already non-conforming lot.
· Highlighted that the plan does not show fixed boundary monuments.
· Stated that part of site lies in a wetland area.
Attorney Chris Toomey, representing abutters Joachim and Marie Fiedrich of Red Pine Drive, agreed that Nextel should be the only applicant and that the application be dismissed, as plans indicate the oil tanks are still present. Failing that, he stated additional opinions as to why the application should not be approved. "There is no possibility that the Board can grant the variance," Toomey said. "The bylaw says it must be 900 feet from a residence. The hardship contingency has not been met. It cannot go on this site. There are other sites available that would not need a variance."
Neighbor Don Allen of Pilgrim Path, who helped formulate the town bylaw, added, "There are good places to put these things, and there are bad places. This application is at gross variance with the bylaw."
Booth noted that, "River Road is designated as a 'scenic way.' You can't even move stones in a wall without permission from the town." (The town's designation predates the initial telecommunications application.)
Proia calmly responded to the residents, "There are sites that would require less variance, but there were other problems with those sites that created even more issues. That's why we opted for leasing at a commercial property." He made note that oil tanks have indeed been removed, and apologized for not updating the plans.
The BOA decided to continue the hearing to the next meeting on Thursday, April 5. Herndon requested an update to the plan to remove the oil tanks, and asked Proia to present the data he has gathered on the consideration of other sites. Proia will also respond to requests for information by abutters.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito