Friday, November 22, 2002
Selectmen hold public hearing on cell towers
Representatives of Sprint and AT&T Wireless fielded questions for almost two hours during the public hearing on cell towers held by the Carlisle Board of Selectmen on November 12. Many in the audience voiced concern that cell towers would lower property values of nearby homes.
The selectmen opened the hearing by explaining they were not committed to placing a cell tower on town land, but were moving in that direction. The Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 puts pressure on towns to allow cell tower construction, and selectman John Ballantine said, "You can't just say no." Chair of the selectmen, Doug Stevenson, thought that if cell towers were inevitable, then the town might as well lease public land and enjoy the additional revenue the lease would bring.
Cell tower on public lands?
The selectmen have been considering three general locations on town land — the department of public works site off Lowell Road; an area behind the fire station on the Conant Land where the fire and police departments already have a small communications pole; and a third site deep within the Conant Land, farther from neighboring houses.
Kate Reid, chair of the planning board, said that her board is hiring an independent consultant to rank Carlisle's public and private lands according to their feasibility for use as a cell tower site. (See article this page.) Stevenson recommended the selectmen wait until the study is completed in three months, and use the results when requesting proposals from wireless communications companies.
The town's cellular communications bylaw regulates how a cell tower is sited. For instance, towers are to be built at least 900 feet from a residential structure, the maximum tower height is 150 feet on wooded sites and 120 feet on other sites, and towers are to be located a distance from the lot line equal to 1.5 times the tower height. Variances from these requirements may be granted by the board of appeals and permits are granted by the planning board.
Cell tower on private lands?
Since 1999, three applications have come before the board of appeals for the construction of cell towers on privately-owned land, but none have yet successfully completed the permitting process. All three properties are near Route 225 at the eastern part of town (Bedford Road). They are: 1 River Road, 662 Bedford Road, and property off Bedford Road owned by the Woodward and Andregg families. Only the Woodward/Andregg application has been granted the needed variances by the board of appeals to date. Applicants and/or neighbors have challenged the board of appeals' decisions in court. (For more past stories on cell tower applications, search the Mosquito web site's archive at www.carlislemosquito.org.)
Needs of cell-phone companies
Sprint representative John Coste explained that Sprint's primary goal was seamless coverage along Route 225. Adequate cell phone reception throughout Carlisle was a lesser goal. Assuming that one cell tower will eventually be built on private land near Route 225 in the eastern part of town, Sprint would like to build another tower near the center of town. He said that two cell towers were all that Sprint anticipates needing, but he would not rule out the possibility that a third tower might be needed in future years. Coste showed maps of cell-phone coverage, and said that a 100-foot tower placed behind the fire station on the Conant Land would provide better coverage along Route 225 than would a 150-foot tower located near the department of public works (DPW) shed, which is farther away from Route 225.
Steven Anderson spoke for AT&T Wireless. He said AT&T uses a wireless technology similar to Sprint's, and therefore AT&T's coverage profiles would be similar. However, he said that AT&T is more interested in improving their coverage throughout Carlisle. Anderson thought that a third tower might be needed to address the needs of the western part of town.
Depending on the design, several wireless communications companies can locate on one cell tower placing their equipment 10 feet apart to prevent signal interference. Anderson described a "stealth flagpole" design used in Concord, where the antennae are concealed within the flagpole. These poles can hold up to three carriers before becoming too large to resemble a flagpole. Other tower designs can place twice that many carriers, including a "stealth monopine" design, a tower built to resemble a pine tree.
Many of the audience members who spoke against placing a tower on the DPW land were residents who lived nearby on Elizabeth Ridge Road. The main concern raised was that residential property values would decline with the advent of a cell tower. Michael Bleday of Elizabeth Ridge Road made a presentation, showing that 18 houses and a day-care facility would be within 900 feet of a cell tower placed at one possible location on the DPW land. After examining the map, it appeared that other spots on the DPW land would involve fewer houses but might require a wetlands crossing.
There was conflicting information about the impact of cell tower construction on adjacent housing values. The AT&T representative said that one study had shown no impact, yet audience members had heard that property values might drop as much as 20%. The selectmen agreed that this topic should be investigated further.
When the 900-foot setback requirement was questioned, Paul Gill said, "There's nothing magic about the 900 feet." Gill helped write the town's cell tower bylaw a few years ago. He said that several nearby towns had used a 1,000-foot setback instead. Planning board chair Kate Reid said that if no sites in town met the requirements of the bylaw, then the planning board's consultant might recommend changing the bylaw.
Bleday asked the selectmen to consider alternatives to the DPW site and showed there was a location near the center of the Conant land that was at least 900 feet from all houses. The AT&T spokesman pointed out that this Conant site was at an altitude of about 190 feet, and between it and Route 225 there was a barrier of a hill at elevation 320 feet. It was suggested that a shorter tower would be needed if it were placed on top of the hill. The hill is known locally as Castle Rock, a popular spot with school children. Selectman John Ballantine warned, "We should not assume the Conant land is a slam dunk." Stevenson said that there will probably be some people unhappy with any site that is proposed, "If there is a magic site out there, please bring it forward."
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito