Friday, May 8, 2009
Bylaw revision defines wireless facility priorities
With little discussion beyond some confusion over a typo on the word “emergency,” Town Meeting approved Article 34, the Planning Board-supported revisions to the Personal Wireless Service Facilities bylaw developed by its Wireless Bylaw Working Group.
According to Planning Board Chair Michael Epstein this latest revision (the seventh in 12 years) incorporates “lessons learned” from the board’s experience with the approval process for towers in four locations in town. This bylaw makes clear what “least intrusive” facilities the town wishes to encourage: “concealed” or “camouflaged,” “small form factor technology,” and/or “co-location,” Epstein said.
To clarify the town’s priorities, the bylaw lists types of facilities in the order preferred by the town, with concealed antenna monopoles (CAM) on private land (as at the Sorli farm on Westford Street) having the lowest priority. The bylaw gives highest priority to “low-impact facilities,” exempting them from certain setback and height requirements.
Stealth, concealed, camouflaged preferred
Most preferred are installations that are “concealed” or “camouflaged” by an existing structure or an architectural feature added to a structure “in a manner . . . in keeping with the architecture . . . and the character of the surroundings.”
Next most highly favored are installations with more than one company “co-located” in (sharing) an existing facility, and “small form factor technology” (SFFT). SFFT facilities use systems such as a repeater or distributed antenna system to extend coverage over-the-air or by media such as fiber, wire, or wireless links, and may be located on a utility pole or hidden in another structure.
Ranked below these are: facilities camouflaged by a proposed rather than an existing building or structure, CAMS on land owned or leased by the Town, and finally CAMs not located on town land.
The revision adds an exemption from the setback and height requirements for the higher priority low-impact designs (SFFT, concealed and camouflaged/existing building facilities).
Height, setback waivers clarified
The bylaw also modifies and clarifies the maximum height of facilities. Without tree cover, the highest tower can only be 80 feet, except that an additional 10 feet is allowed for co-location. The revision also reduces maximum height with tree cover from 20 to 10 feet above the existing tree canopy, with an additional 10 feet possible for co-location.
Under the just-revised bylaw, a maximum tower height of 150 feet was permitted. This will no longer be allowed, except for existing towers with tree cover if co-location is proposed.
The new bylaw also “clarifies” the conditions for the Planning Board to waive the 900-foot setback requirement, and limits height within the setback to 60 feet (80 feet with co-location). However, the new bylaw will also let the Planning Board reduce the required setback from a maximum of 1.5X maximum height “if better design will result,” but not less than the maximum tower height or “that allowed by zoning.”
Also modified is the 900-foot setback for wetlands, vernal pools and rare or endangered species habitat to allow state and local regulations to dictate required setbacks (except a 100-foot setback is specified for vernal pools).
Four projects so far
Since 2004 four wireless facility permits have been approved. A 2004 court judgment resulting from various legal actions allowed a 189-foot monopole on the Anderegg property on Bedford Road. The Planning Board has permitted an 80-foot monopole at the Sorli farm on Westford Street, and two “stealth installations:” in the steeple of the First Religious Society (FRS) on School Street and a cupola in the Erickson barn on Lowell Street.
Time limit on permit
Of these permitted projects, only two (Bedford Road and Westford Street) are operational, with construction underway for the T-Mobile installation at the FRS. Permits for Sprint/Nextel at FRS and T-Mobile on Lowell Street have not yet been exercised.
Permits under the revised bylaw will now be valid for just three years, unless extended up to two years, except that the Planning Board may allow longer periods for higher priority facilities.
Six prior bylaw revisions
The town’s first wireless bylaw was approved at the May 1997 Town Meeting, revised at a November 1999 Special Town Meeting, again in May 2000, May 2001, and at Annual and Special Town Meetings in 2006. To a bylaw that originally permitted only monopoles were added “concepts of coverage adequacy, stealth facilities, balloon and view-shed tests, [and] removal requirements.”
The 1997 bylaw also allowed a height up to 190 feet, but this was later modified to allow up to 120 feet in open areas and 10 to 20 feet above tree cover, to a maximum of 150 feet. The 2006 revision also added a setback requirement of 900 feet from residences, schools, day care facilities, the historic district, etc., but allowed waivers for “low impact” facilities. This bylaw also strengthened the requirements for removal of a non-functioning installation. ∆
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