The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 5, 2001


ConsCom rejects cell tower testing of Malcolm Land

The Carlisle Conservation Commission (ConsCom) gave a firm "no" to a request from the board of selectmen to allow a balloon test on the Malcolm Open Space Parcel, in order to determine its suitability as a cell tower site. At their September 22 meeting, Commission members indicated that there appeared to be no rationale for the procedure, given that they would not subsequently approve a tower installation, even if the results were satisfactory to the telecom companies.

Four possible sites
A balloon test for a cell tower on the Duren property on Bedford Road is viewed from Canterbury Court. (Photo by Midge Eliassen)

According to town administrator Madonna McKenzie, the wooded lot behind the Senior Conservation Cluster off Stearns Street is one of four possible locations on town-owned land that would fulfill all the requirements of the town bylaw covering cell tower placement. The other sites under consideration are the Conant Land, Hart Farm Area X and the Gage Woodlot, none of which are located in the most serious cell phone reception gap near the Bedford end of Route 225. The balloon test, and perhaps later a more accurate crane test, could estimate what the full range of coverage would be. McKenzie made clear that the selectmen's prime concern was "to find a single site that would meet the needs of the entire community without requiring us to have three sites."

Wes Stimpson of Canterbury Court pleaded with the commission to "at least allow the test," since another actively-pursued proposal for a privately-owned site at 662 Bedford Road would require four variances from town bylaws and affect 22 homes. McKenzie warned Stimpson that although no conservation restriction had yet been placed on the Malcolm lot, she was aware that it was fully intended to be there, and that the land had been acquired specifically as conservation land."However," she explained, "I have to look at town wide needs."

Obstacles to use of Malcolm Land

Chair Tom Brownrigg recognized Carlisle Conservation Foundation member Wayne Davis who had retrieved and studied all the documents pertinent to the town's purchase of the property. Among the "numerous articles," any one of which he believed "would suffice to prevent the project going forward" were the following perceived legal obstacles:

1.Easements held by the town and by the current landowners (Malcolm Senior Housing) would preclude access to the site.

2.A variety of documents exist that clearly anticipate that the parcel will be held as "open space," a term "inconsistent with a commercial activity that would require fencing and prevention of public access." Also, substantial funding for the acquisition had come through the Kulmala estate via an agreement with the Massachusetts Audubon Society and indirectly the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management.

3.The land involved is part of a 400-acre buffer area surrounding Harvard University's 670-acre Estabrook Woods biological preserve, which that institution had required adjacent towns to acquire and put under conservation restriction before the university reaffirmed its legal commitment to preserve its portion of the Woods.

Davis's conclusion, as written in an accompanying communication to the commission, was that opposition could come from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, CCF, the Town of Concord, the Trustees of Reservations and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to say nothing of area residents.

Roadside test possible

McKenzie did not offer to refute the probable legal complications, but did present some practical assurances. If the crane test were eventually done, she said it could be accomplished from the road, and all costs would be borne by the cell company. Also, if the tower were eventually placed on the Malcolm site, she believed that any income from it would have to go to ConsCom.

Commenting on the exchange, chair Brownrigg declared, "In my opinion, this is not a possible use." The law, he believed, specified that a unanimous ConsCom vote was required, accompanied by a declaration to the state that the land is no longer needed for conservation. He agreed with Davis that such a change in use would set a very poor precedent, and concluded that, "I don't feel it is right for me to vote for a balloon test knowing I could never vote for a cell tower in that location."

Commissioners vote 'no'

Commissioners Peter Burn and Jo Rita Jordan agreed that there was a clear obligation to protect the conservation parcel and therefore saw no reason to vote for a test. Commissioner Christine (Gaulden) Kavalauskas asked, "If we didn't approve, could the crane test be done from the road anyway?" To which, McKenzie voiced a quiet affirmative, and non-committal smiles flickered down the line.

Brownrigg ended the resulting pause by asking, "Do you want us to take a vote?" McKenzie nodded, and commissioner John Lee obliged with a motion to "approve the balloon test, all the time recognizing that the commission undoubtedly would not approve the building of the tower." He cast the only affirmative vote. The town administrator thanked the board for listening and voting, then confirmed that she had come to the meeting "realizing that the outlook was dim."

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito