Friday, November 16, 2001
Board of appeals hears more cell tower pleas
The November 8 Carlisle Board of Appeals hearing on siting the monopole at 662 Bedford Road may have been the penultimate meeting on this subject, but then again maybe not. The same familiar faces that appeared last month, and the month before, reappeared, and jammed into the meeting room at the Town Hall.
The standing-room-only audience was nearly equally divided. On the one hand were the lawyers, project managers, tower engineers, radio frequency (RF) engineers, computer simulator engineers, and others representing American Tower and the five cell phone company co-applicants. The other half were the abutters who have turned out on a regular basis, objecting vociferously and pleading their cause to the members of the board of appeals, who are charged with granting variances so that the cell-tower petition can move to the planning board, where a final decision will be made.
Three variances sought
Three variances are necessary to locate a 150-foot stealth monopine at this site. This is a cellular tower that American Tower company is proposing to build off Route 225 on the Duren property at 662 Bedford Road. American Tower and ATT, who were the original petitioners at this site, have been joined in their request for variances from the board, by four other companies Sprint, VoiceStream, Verizon and Cingular, in order to build. The current Carlisle bylaws prohibit the siting of a wireless tower within 900 feet of a residential structure, and require that the distance to the lot line must be 1.5 times the height of a pole. A third requirement is a set-back 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 petitioners have attempted to show hardship as they claim there is no other site available in this part of town. Their engineers have attempted to show that a major coverage gap exists. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 insists that towns must enable communications companies to establish viable networks. Town counsel Rich Hucksam is present at all meetings advising the BOA. A law- suit by the petitioners, if their request for variances is denied, would most likely proceed, as a similar case in Concord went to the courts.
It was the abutters' turn to take center stage and make their presentation. Making their case for hardship for the property owners if variances were given was Patricia Stimpson of 94 Canterbury Court, who represented 14 families from Stoney Gate and Canterbury Court.
Disputing the need for a cell tower in this part of town, Stimpson and Bob Harvey did a real phone test, using cell phones from all the companies involved. They were able to make and maintain phone conversations in the Route 225 area, near the Bedford line, and did not drop any calls while driving in the proposed area. Stimpson said that the phone companies' reported lack of coverage was based on computer simulations, while she and others simply made phone calls with very different results than what had been presented.
Stimpson said that the phone companies have repeatedly claimed a hardship since there was no alternative land on which to build. However, she reported that property owners from the Woodward family own more than 58 acres at 767 Bedford Road near the area in question and were never contacted. The Woodwards contacted American Tower this past month and invited an inspection of their property, some of which is in Chapter 61 and 61A agriculture restriction. Woodward offered some sites on his property as possible cell tower locations. Stimpson said, "That shows the cell companies had not done their homework, looking for reasonable sites"(as it was Woodward who contacted the companies, and not vice versa).
The hardship to the neighbors in terms of safety was discussed. The bylaw states that the distance to a lot line must be 1.5 times the height of the pole. Simpson explained the bylaw was written "to provide safety from objects falling, ice falling, trees felled, and the tower falling. They want the property around a tower to be owned by the cell company so it won't damage the property of other people or hurt other people." Stimpson said that Kevin Pei's house on Stoney Gate is so close to the proposed tower that it is in danger of having things land not only on his property but on his house. She went on to say that the buffer zone around the proposed tower is 95 percent too small that the size of the Duren property is "egregiously smaller" than that required by the bylaws.
Other hardship factors offered by the abutters' presenter were visibility of the pole: "It would be startling and very visible to the families," and noise. The applicants claim that there is no noise associated with the structure. Stimpson asked the board to visit the monopole in Acton, located off Route 7. "It is very noisy a loud hum." Also, web sites that talk about cell towers claim that, "There is a lot of wind-whistling noise."
Impact on property values
American Tower in its previous presentation elicited loud groans from the audience when spokesperson Donovan said that there is no evidence that the presence of a monopole in one's backyard would impact property values. Stimpson asked local realtors for comments. Brigitte Senkler said that she would estimate a 10 to 15 percent drop in property values. In addition, she said realtors equate cellular towers with high wire towers, and the number of potential buyers is reduced as fewer people are willing to live near such structures. Further, she reported that there is a much longer selling time associated with these types of properties. Two other realtors were contacted, Jane Barrett and Dorcas Miller. Both indicated a negative impact on property values.
Stimpson also reported that both Concord and Southborough have had adverse impacts on property values when cell towers were constructed in neighborhoods.
History of variances
Stimpson concluded her presentation with a history of when variances are given by the board. They are given when:
· they would not alter the appearance of a neighborhood;
· they would not derogate the intention of the bylaw;
· they are in keeping with a neighborhood and not detrimental to one;
· they are in the range of 1 to 10 percent, nowhere near 65 to 95 percent variance;
· there are no, or few, objections from abutters.
She said that the variances requested here are "staggering" requests and that, of the 17 property owners impacted by these variances request, 14 are "loudly objecting to these variances."
Carrie Fitzsimons of American Tower made the case for the petitioners, addressing some of the points of the abutters. She called upon radio frequency (RF) engineers to reiterate the signal gap that the cell phone companies are experiencing in Carlisle. Engineer Jarod Robinson for Verizon said there was "no correlation with engineering data" and the data collected by the cell phones of the petitioners. Verizon's data was done through computer mapping and is an approximation.
Roberto Marino, RF engineer for Cingular, did an actual test with cell phones attached to RF equipment. He said that his test confirmed the lack of coverage.
Speaking for the abutters, Bob Harvey, who participated in the cell phone test which disputed the companies' findings, said, "We have empirical data we never dropped a phone call driving along 225, or calling from my house." Don Allen, speaking of Harvey's experiment, said that "instead of sitting around and discussing how many teeth a horse has, we went out and counted them!"
Town land not available
In addition, Fitzsimons said that there are no town-owned lands that are available. Their companies have tried to place the towers on town-owned land, but the town will not make any land available. In addition, siting one on conservation land is extraordinarily difficult. In fact, lawyer Peter Morin of American Tower stated that "no organization has ever been able to site a tower on conservation land."
The conservation commission has already denied a request by town administrator Madonna McKenzie to do a balloon test on the Malcolm Land, stating that "ConsCom would never allow a tower on conservation land."
In response to the availability of the Woodward property, Fitzsimons said that they were able to walk the property, but it was not a viable site, given that so much of the land had agricultural restrictions. Also, they would need variances for setback and height. An additional concern with the Woodward land would be the serious problem of visibility.
Another extension granted
Unable to conclude the hearing due to the late hour, the board granted the petitioners a continuance and will meet again on Thursday, December 13.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito