Friday, March 23, 2007
Planning Board continues cell tower hearings
Engineering and aesthetics were the topics debated as Planning Board hearings continued on March 12 for special permits requested by Omnipoint Communications (a wholly owned subsidary of T-Mobile USA, Inc.) to locate personal wireless service (PWS) facilities on Erickson Farm at 886 Lowell Street and on Sorli Farm at 1022 Westford Street. After discussion, the Planning Board again continued both public hearings, requesting more data to better understand the effect on wireless communication signal strength.
The PWS facility proposed for Lowell Street would be hidden within the existing barn, while the Westford Street plan calls for an 80-foot monopole behind the barns on the site.
Regarding the appearance of the two designs, board member Kent Gonzales coalesced opinions expressed by the public. "One location [Erickson Farm] where you are using the barn cupola absolutely fits into the character of the community. The Sorli Farm site is the other extreme — it [the monopole] is really a foreground element. There you are — it is like a poke in the eye."
Carlisle's first cell tower, located off Bedford Road, is a 180-foot monopole. Other PWS facilities are on the drawing board. Recently, the First Religious Society on the Town Green has signed leases with Nextel/Sprint and T-Mobile to place antennas inside the church steeple. The town is also exploring the idea of leasing land for wireless facilities (see "New cell tower strategy unveiled," Mosquito, March 9.)
Brian Grossman of Prince, Lobel, Glovsky and Tye, attorney for the applicant, and engineer Kamal Johari presented signal coverage plots showing existing and proposed PWS facilities in Carlisle and existing facilities in surrounding communities.
Johari explained the computer-generated signal propagation diagrams. The boundaries are predictions of where signal strength drops to a level considered low for reliable reception in a car. Because three panels arranged 120-degrees apart constitute a single antenna array, the diagrams have three lobes. The limitations of the predictions became evident during the discussion. Signal falls off with distance, and is influenced by terrain features and tree cover — particularly if the antenna is near the tree canopy height. The software deals poorly with terrain detail and only in general terms with vegetation. The point was made that white space on the plots does not mean "no signal." The board requested that more finesse be provided in the diagrams to provide easier assessment of how the Carlisle facilities interact and how signal falls off in the "white space." The Bedford Road antenna is at 157 feet above present grade. First Religious Society's planned antennas would be at about 60 feet, Sorli at 80 feet and Erickson at 35 feet.
Does it protect scenic values?
The board received a letter from David Alexander and Karen Sorli Alexander of Westford Street in opposition to the proposed cell tower. In part it said, "It is our understanding that the new cell tower could only be constructed if the Planning Board provides a waiver, due to the fact that some homes (including ours) are well within a 900-foot distance from the site. Our home is approximately 500 feet from the proposed tower and, based on our personal observance on the balloon test, it would be clearly visible from many points on our property." Referencing Section 184.108.40.206 of the bylaw, the Alexanders' letter continues, "One of the most beautiful vistas in Carlisle is the Sorli Farm, which is virtually a gateway to the town when entering on Westford Streetthis farm has been a bucolic, beautiful piece of property, with structures dating back more than 200 years. The new cell tower would be a major blight on this vista. Among other things, it would be clearly visible from the street."
The stated purpose of bylaw section 220.127.116.11 is "to permit the siting of personal wireless service facilities within the Town, to regulate their impact, their location and use in a manner that protects the scenic, historic, natural and man-made resources of the Town."
Peter Yelle of Cross Street, a member of the subcommittee that drafted the present PWS bylaw, was attending the hearings. He said, "The applicant's proposed facility fails to comply with the requirements of the bylawI disagree that the proposed 80-foot monopole satisfies 18.104.22.168. [It] is industrial in appearance, does not protect the scenic and historic nature of the farm setting it is being placed in. Antenna housed in a structure more farm-like, a silo for instance, would better satisfy this requirement. The applicant shows proposed cell site coverage, which possibly covers 40 Carlisle homes. Provided the applicant has about a 15% market penetration, it may be assumed the applicant has at most six customer households. It can be surmised the primary beneficial use of this PWS facility will be for commuters passing on [Route] 225, and not residents of the community."
Nancy Pierce of West Street added, "We're 1,000 feet from the site. It would be a pity to deface that landscape."
In addition to addressing the concerns expressed by the public, Chair David Freedman asked the applicant to resubmit prediction plots using updated software while dealing with terrain and tree-cover issues, thereby providing the board with some information about the coverage gaps. Plots are to be provided for 60- and 80-foot cell towers. He asked that the material be given to David Maxson, the board's consultant, prior to the next hearing date. The hearing will be continued at 8:30 p.m. on April 9.
Fewer issues were evident during discussion of the Erickson Farm site. Given the relatively low height (35 feet) of the proposed antenna Maxson asked Grossman if it would be more effective to use a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) on a few utility poles in the area. A DAS system consists of a series of small whip antennas and equipment canisters attached to existing utility poles.
Grossman responded that a DAS system would not give geographic coverage but rather a "ribbon" of coverage along the road.
Freedman pointed out that the rules and regulations for a wireless facility require at least one landowner's signature as a co-applicant. The Eriksons have signed a lease agreement but have not signed the application.
Grossman responded, "A lease or letter of authorization should be sufficient. We have the legal authority to go forward." Board member Greg Peterson said, "I would feel more comfortable if the owners also signed the application. It is going to go on their title."
Freedman said that for the next hearing date, the board would like to see all waivers requested to be on one piece of paper rather than distributed throughout the application.
The board requested that updated signal plots, equivalent to those requested for Sorli, be submitted prior to the next hearing date. The hearing will be continued at 9 p.m. on April 9.
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