Resistance To Northwest Woods Cell Tower

T. E. McMorrow
A 185-foot-tall monopole cell phone antenna may rise behind the new fire station on Old Northwest Road in East Hampton.

Those bordering the site of a proposed AT&T monopole cell signal tower in Northwest Woods have lawyered up. At the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing on January 21, they voiced opposition to the location, which is the former brush dump site on Old Northwest Road.

“This is quite frankly the worst application I have seen anywhere on Long Island or in the state of New York,” said Andrew Campanelli, an attorney for Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Leichter — owners of one of the effected properties on Bull Path.

The project is the result of a court-ordered settlement between AT&T and the Town of East Hampton out of the Eastern District of New York’s federal court in Central Islip. In 2017, the town’s planning board rejected AT&T’s proposal to mount antennas onto the wind turbine tower at Iacono Farm on Long Lane, contrary to federal law. The proposed antennas at Iacono Farm were to close a severe cell signal gap that spans from Long Lane through Northwest Woods.

“We don’t want the tower. They do,” said Mrs. Leichter about Iacono Farm. She called the Northwest Woods monopole proposal “totally inappropriate.”

Under the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, once a communications company is able to demonstrate there is a gap in service coverage in a specific area, it cannot, as Chief Judge Dora Irizarry stated in her written order resolving the lawsuit, be prohibited from taking corrective action in an effort to provide “seamless, ubiquitous, and reliable personal wireless services.”

Planning board members had rejected the Iacono Farm proposal because the brush dump was their “preferred site.” In the settlement, AT&T agreed to the new location, with the town then required to complete the permitting process for the tower within 60 days of AT&T’s presentation of a formal proposal, which the company did in December. If any town agency delays the permitting process, AT&T can return to Iacono Farm and install the antennas without interference. The deadline for the town to approve the brush dump site is February 19, according to the planning department.

But at one point during last Tuesday’s meeting, Campanelli challenged the idea that there even was a gap in service.

“I have lived here for 63 years. I have had a cell phone for as long as they were invented. I lived out on Northwest Road,” said zoning board Chairman John Whelan, adding he has weak-to-no-service or dropped calls frequently.

David Kirst, attorney for another Bull Path neighbor, Jennifer Gardiner, urged the board to account for the elevation of the proposed site for the monopole. According to Kirst, it is at 100 feet, while his client’s property is only at 50. He too was a proponent of placing the antennas at Iacono Farm. Two other Bull Path neighbors also spoke in opposition during the meeting. NancyLynn Thiele, a senior town attorney, said the zoning board’s role was to only consider the variances.

The monopole needs approval because of its height. Under town code, any cell tower must be located twice the distance of its height from neighboring properties. The proposed structure is 185 feet tall, but the original proposal listed it at 160, with AT&T placing antennas at the 155-foot-mark. The town requested AT&T add 25 feet to the height to allow for the placement of emergency communications antennas as part of the town’s upgrade of its emergency communications system.

At 160 feet, AT&T did not need any variances, but at 185, now needs setback variances from three neighboring properties, two residential, and one the new Northwest Woods-area fire station. A standard question the zoning board is required to ask of any variance request is: Is the hardship self-imposed?

Anna Mercado Clark, an attorney with Phillips Lytle, the firm representing AT&T, reminded the board that the sole reason for the meeting was the town requested the tower be an additional 25 feet taller.

“I urge the board to consider the needs of the larger public” when they vote on the variance request, she said.

To gear up for a February 5 public hearing, planning board members prepared an environmental impact statement unveiled January 15. In it, the members said the proposed pole would be visible from miles away, including on Long Lane, the site of the much smaller wind turbine tower at Iacono Farm. Kimberly Nisan, another attorney with AT&T’s law firm, had previously explained to the board that the difference in the height requirements from Iacono Farm to the former brush dump was due to geographic factors.

“I’m thinking now that maybe Iacono is a better site,” said planning board member Randy Parsons.

The planning board’s public hearing on the matter is scheduled for February 5 at 6:30 PM.

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