Monday, December 9, 2013
STARKS — After nearly four hours of review, the planning board voted Wednesday to approve an application by a Massachusetts-based company to build a cellphone tower on Abijah Hill Road.
The decision, which passed unanimously, means that construction on the tower can start immediately. The town is expected to benefit from improved cellphone reception through wireless provider AT&T as early as 10 weeks from now, according to Vincent Granese, a consultant for Bay Communications.
A written decision on the vote is still required to make the vote official.
Since its submission on June 6, the application by Bay Communications II LLC has drawn significant controversy, including an attempt by residents to pass a retroactive moratorium on telecommunications towers, which was defeated in a special town meeting last month.
On Wednesday night, parties in support of and against the construction of the tower made statements prior to the review by the board.
Granese said that since the town's last meeting on the issue he had reviewed historical and environmental concerns surrounding the tower and had found no threats to either. He also said that the radiation levels emitted from the tower would be in compliance with Federal Communications Commission standards.
Opposition to the tower has mainly been led by a handful of families that live on Abijah Hill Road, including Cindy and Harry Brown, whose home will be the closest to the site at about 700 feet away.
On Wednesday the Brown's lawyer, Barbara Chassie, spoke on their behalf and said that “litigation is likely.” The Browns plan to appeal the board's decision although Chassie said she was unsure yet as to what grounds for the appeal they would be using. She indicated she will submit to the board a written list of objections to the review process and public hearing process, since time constraints did not allow her to elaborate on objections during the meeting. The Browns have 30 days to submit an appeal, according to the town ordinance.
Cindy Brown, 53, has argued that the tower poses health risks to her family and is an eyesore on their 80-acre farm. She and her husband plan to continue hosting the three annual pro-marijuana festivals they have on their property but do not plan to continue living there.
“I can’t go outside and look at that thing everyday. I don’t have a home anymore. I have no place to be,” Brown said.
Elizabeth Smedberg, another resident on Abijah Hill Road opposed to the tower, used a permanent marker to deface a map of the town after the vote by drawing a giant cellphone tower across it.
The tower will occupy a 100 x 100 foot compound and stand 195 feet tall, according to the application. It will provide AT&T service in a coverage area with a three to five mile radius of the tower. There is also the possibility of up to five additional wireless carriers being housed on the tower, according to the application.
Three sheriff's deputies responded to a report of disturbance at the town office during the meeting. Planning board chairman Kerry Hebert said at the conclusion of the meeting that he was not sure who called the sheriff's department or why they were called.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368