Friday, October 12, 2001
Abutters strongly oppose Bedford Road cell tower
Many familiar faces gathered at the Carlisle Board of Appeals' October 2 meeting to discuss the siting of the proposed American Tower 150-foot monopine cellular tower at 622 Bedford Road. With each meeting, the cellular companies along with American Tower Corporation trot out increasing numbers of lawyers, engineers, spokespeople, construction managers, and crew chiefs to present their case. On the other hand, more and more residents, abutters, and friends show up to state how strongly they are against granting the variances necessary for the application to proceed to the next stage. As a result, the meeting was moved to the Corey auditorium to accommodate the more than 60 people in attendance.
Chairman Terry Herndon addressed the issue of co-applicants. Town counsel John Richard Hucksam gave his opinion that there would be no legal impediment to allowing the individual cell companies to join American Tower on this application. Sprint, Verizon, Voice Stream, Nextel, along with AT&T, which was the original company to develop a lease for this site, have all joined American Tower's application as the proposed cell tower would be able to accommodate the equipment of up to six companies, placed ten feet apart.
Board clerk Midge Eliassen submitted letters written by abutters and neighbors against the construction of the tower into the record. There was a demand by one audience member to read the letters aloud; however, the chair said that he would move forward with the meeting, allowing the applicants to make their presentations first, and then allowing the audience to address their concerns and have their questions answered by the applicants.
American Tower's case was largely presented by spokesperson Katy Donovan and lawyer Peter Moran. They are seeking three variances from Carlisle's bylaws to locate at this site. The current Carlisle bylaws prohibit the siting of a wireless tower within 900 feet of a residential structure and include the requirement that the distance to the lot line must be 1.5 times the height of a pole. A third requirement is a setback requirement from the lot line. American Tower is looking for relief for three sideline requirements, in addition to the 900 foot requirement, and the 1.5 times height of pole requirement.
The audience listened politely to the presentation, although audible moans could be heard when applicants talked about the tower not affecting property values and the site "providing a rare opportunity for a tower structure to be screened."
ATC reponds to objections
Donovan reviewed the points made at previous meetings. She revisited the issues that needed to be considered.
· Topography: The map shows the site in a bowl, nine to ten feet deep, with an area of earth around the base. She said the tower would be buffered and set back from the road, and the site has a "minimizing visual effect." Later attorney Moran added, "Never [had he] seen a parcel of land so conducive to screening of visual impact."
· Hardship: Donovan said that there is a lack of cellular coverage in this area, and that due to Carlisle's stringent dimensional requirements there is no private property that meets those requirements. (The Telecommunications Act of 1996 calls for towns to provide access to telecommunication companies so that they may have nationwide seamless coverage.)
· Detriment to the public good: Donovan said that the possibility of tower failure was extremely rare. She said that American Tower has never had a tower topple. Later an engineer added, somewhat sheepishly, that these towers were built like the World Trade Towers in New York, so if they were to come down, they would topple in on themselves. Donovan also added that after the towers tragedy, wireless phones have become a necessity for everyone.
Mike Libertine of Rohm Engineering Company reported on a crane test done on September 26 at the site. This is a more accurate depiction of what the tower would really look like. He raised the crane to 135 feet and then attached a balloon to reach the proposed 150 feet. Then a visibility map of a two-mile radius was constructed to depict actual tree cover and visibility for property owners. His report looked at the 8,000 acres within the two-mile radius and said that 80 percent of the acreage was wooded with tree cover. He said it was a "good site from a camouflage perspective, with only three photos taken where it was visible-a site on Canterbury Court, one on Stoney Gate, and on Bedford Road."
Upon questioning by a member of the audience, Libertine later acknowledged this test was done in September with full leaf coverage of oaks and maples in the area, and Carlisle was indeed leafless for more than six months a year. He said he had not intended to mislead the audience or the board.
Multiple variances needed
Gunnars Elmuts of 100 Stoney Gate said that the bylaws were written to protect the property owners. He said that this tower impacts a neighborhood of 21 homes. Reached at home to clarify his remarks, he said that one of the bylaws requires the tower to be set back 1.5 times its height from a lot line, or 225 feet. Elmuts said that there are seven houses within that distance and his own lot line is 146 feet from the proposed tower site. He said that some of the variances would require the setback to be decreased by 64 percent.
Elmuts also said that there are 19 homes within the minimum restriction of 900 feet from an existing building to the tower. Kerlin Pei's house is the closest at 200 feet, and his own at 325 feet. The board would have to give a 700-foot variance.
Another bylaw which Elmuts pointed out involves the tree canopy. The bylaw states that a tower cannot exceed the average height of the tree canopy by more than ten feet. The average tree canopy at the site, as projected by the applicants, is 75 feet; the 150-foot tower would project another 75 feet above the trees.
He went on to say there were more than 15 other town sites as large as Great Brook, which has 934 acres, and asked, "Why can't those lots qualify?" In response to the applicants' claim that this was one of the best sites they had seen in regard to visibility, Elmuts said that this impacts an entire neighborhood and was in fact "the worst site in Carlisle as far as we're concerned."
The attorney for American Tower responded that, "there are 2,600 acres of protected land in Carlisle. None of the town parcels are situated to help us in our coverage." He went on to add that parcels under conservation protection can't be used without major difficulties.
Don Allen of 61 Pilgrim Path remarked that the variance that was being sought was not a small one. He said that the bylaw stipulating a 900-foot radius is requiring 2.5 million square feet in a buffer zone. The request for a variance is for 95 percent of that buffer zone. He questioned whether the applicants had looked at an aggregate of private parcels, where only a 10 percent variance would be needed.
Allen also talked about the "net balance between the applicant and the surrounding community. There is a significant amount of hardship on the 20 property owners."
Similar to a fake Christmas tree
Ted Shaw of Stoney Gate questioned the composition of the monopine and the maintenance program. An engineer for American Tower told the audience that the tree branches were made of a synthetic material similar to fake Christmas trees but that they had the ability to withstand winter weather conditions. He said that the pole is checked once or twice every month for maintenance.
Gorgon Cheng of 222 Stoney Gate questioned the accuracy of the visibility map done in September with the highest tree coverage. He said, "When I look out of my window, I'll see a monopine and it will be an eyesore." The chair responded that the role of the board is to make a determination on dimensional variances; "The aesthetic nature of the tower will be an issue for the planning board."
Cheng said, "The town makes many restrictions to preserve the value of the town. Many bylaws restrict us from doing things we want to do. This [the bylaws] is a promise made by the town."
The closest abutter is Kerlin Pei at 97 Stoney Gate. He reported that the tower is 115 feet from his property line, and his house is within 200 feet. Visibly upset, he said, "This is not a trivial thing -- 200 feet is too close. What if something falls off? What if the tower falls down?" In addition, he said, there will be much electronic equipment on the ground making a humming noise, and an emergency power facility sited at the tower's base.
Mike Simonds of Canterbury Court said that these were, "egregious requests for variances," and asked how the applicants could say that they wouldn't affect property values.
The chairman concluded the meeting, noting that others still had to be heard, and the applicant had also been promised to make concluding remarks. The hearing will resume on November 8 at the Town Hall.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito