The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 21, 2001


Cell tower applicants and abutters make final appeals
A monopine grows in Harvard. The 100-foot cell tower, built by Nextel in 2000, can be seen projecting above the tree-line when driving east on Route 2 in Harvard. (Photo from the public files of the Carlisle Board of Appeals)

This is beginning to feel like a play of many acts. The cast changes little the board of appeals, the cell tower applicants, the abutters. The props are the same charts with their red and green and blue overlays, bulging briefcases, documents by the score that get admitted into the record. The setting changes tonight, December 13, it is the library in the Carlisle School. The screenplay is not fully scripted and so a certain tension exists. The curtain goes up

There is a familiar ring to the opening of the meeting of the Carlisle Board of Appeals by chair Terry Herndon: "This is the continued hearing of the application of American Tower and co-applicants" on the proposed monopine cell tower to be built at 662 Bedford Road. The applicants are before the board to obtain a number of variances to build a 150-foot tower on the Duran property, which could accommodate the equipment for up to six cellular companies.

For months now, American Tower and the co-applicants have presented their case of hardship in appealing to the board to grant the necessary variances to proceed. Their hardship claim is based on the lack of cell phone coverage in this area of Carlisle and their insistence that there is no other site available due to Carlisle's stringent dimensional requirements. (The Telecommunications Act of 1996 calls for towns to provide access to telecommunication companies so that they may have nationwide seamless coverage.)

For many months most of the abutters of the more than twenty households that adjoin this land have appealed to the board to deny these variances. The abutters claim that they would suffer hardship, as their houses are as close as 200 feet to the projected monopine. They claim their houses and their lives, in the case of Kerlin Pei at 78 Stoney Gate would be physically threatened by a tower falling. In addition, the proximity of the tower to their land and homes would impact their property values and destroy their bucolic settings.

The first order of business was the withdrawal of VoiceStream, as one of the co-applicants. The board voted unanimously to accept their withdrawal.

ATC says signal too weak

Carrie Fitzsimmons and lawyer Peter Moran and radio engineer Steve Webster of American Tower Corporation (ATC) made brief presentations, answering some of the abutters' claims from the previous month. The abutters had claimed that they were able to make and hold cellular calls made along the area in question. They tested making actual phone calls using the services of all the cellular companies named in the petition. Engineer Webster explained that these were not scientific tests and that coverage depended on the season due to interference by leaves and other seasonal changes. He also stated that customers are demanding that transmissions be strong enough so that phones can be used in homes and not just in cars.

Lawyer Moran reiterated that the companies claim that no better site is available that would meet the Town of Carlisle's zoning ordinances. There was specific discussion about the Woodward property on Bedford Road which is under 61 and 61A restriction. The Woodward family had contacted American Tower before last month's meeting to offer their land. American Tower claimed that there was no viable spot to site the tower without the need for multiple variances. They also claimed the visibility of the tower would be much greater.

Noise level study

In response to the abutters' concern about noise, American Tower hired sound engineer Doug Shedell. Shedell found that the Stoney Gate area was very quiet indeed. At night the level was 30 decibels and in the daytime it was 50 decibels. He reported that the sound of the ventilation and air-conditioning equipment necessary to cool the sensitive electronic equipment would be no more than 58 decibels at 30 feet from the source.

Sprint was represented by lawyer Travis Corder, who invited his engineer to "take the stand." In a question and answer court-room-like presentation, Mr. Goswammi, a radio-frequency engineer, reported on a drive test using scientific equipment which tested the actual cell phone coverage. He reported that Sprint has a substantial gap in coverage.

In addition, Corder presented to the board the latest court case in Ogunquit, Maine, that had just been decided in favor of Sprint. Corder said the law found that if there was no evidence of an alternative site that would not also need variances, Sprint could proceed.

ATC's Moran concluded the petitioner's presentation with a review of their request for relief from bylaws:

· regulating tower height due to height of the tree canopy

· requiring a 900-foot setback from a residential structure, as 16 residences are within that distance of the proposed tower.

· requiring that the distance to a lot line be 1.5 times the height of the tower.

Moran claimed that, "All the carriers have a significant absence of service in Carlisle." The companies, he continued, have an obligation to provide service, and failure to provide that service subjects them to penalties.

Abutters speak again

Abutter Patricia Simpson of 94 Canterbury Court made a final presentation to the board. She reported on another road test just completed, reaffirming that they were able to make and hold calls throughout the area in question and disproving, she said, the lack-of-coverage claim by the cell companies.

She presented to the board pictures of 60- to 80-foot trees that had fallen in the proposed cell tower site. There are trees with shallow roots that could fall on the tower and potentially topple the tower or knock off its equipment, she claimed.

Safety questioned

Simpson also repeated the main points from last month's presentation, citing the town's cell tower by-laws, explaining the minimum distance requirements to protect the neighborhood in terms of view, safety, noise, disturbance, and devaluation. She asked, "Would safety of 900 feet [the bylaw requirement of distance from tower to house] be nullified at 200 feet?" and responded with a "Yes."

She reported that the abutters had petitioned the conservation commission to explore the possibility that filling in of wetlands would be necessary at the Duran property. They are asking the town to do an independent mapping of the area.

The question of the Woodward property was revisited. Simpson said that the available land, which the owners were willing to take out of forestry restriction, wasnot fully investigated by the petitioners. Further, the variances needed for siting on this property were fewer and less extensive, unlike the Bedford Road site where the variances are "enormous."

The audience heard from non-abutter Paul Gill, who claimed that the Telecommunications Act was written for cellular companies and not for big business such as American Tower. He said the bill was for the "little ducklings" (cell companies) and not designed for a whole business activity to come in.

Gunars Elmuts who resides near the proposed tower on Stoney Gate said that he visited seven towers and there was not one located in a residential area, nor did he see one house. He also claimed that six out of seven towers had some degree of noise.

Decision by January 31

The meeting came to an end after midnight. The board said they would accept the documents of two abutters who had prepared presentations but were not called for lack of time. These documents must be in by Friday, December 14. The applicants have until December 28 to respond to the record. The board kept the hearing open until the January 3 meeting, at which time they will close the hearing formally. No new information will be accepted at that meeting. The board was given a week's extension by the petitioners and must make and write a decision by January 31.

The curtain closes, but the story does end. After 14 hours of hearings over four months, the final act is still to come.

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito