One day before the mandatory deadline, the Town of East Hampton’s building department issued a permit authorizing AT&T to construct a 185-foot-tall monopole cell tower at the old brush dump site in Northwest Woods.
The February 18 issuance followed unanimous approval from the zoning and architectural review boards, but the planning board was not nearly as confident about the proposal, approving it by a 4-3 vote after hours of sometimes heated discussion.
The architectural review board stated in its findings the tower “will maintain harmony with the existing structures, setting, and physical environs,” even though the top of the tower is a full 145 feet above the tree line, according to the plans submitted to all three boards by AT&T.
Planning board member Ian Calder-Piedmonte, who had been in the minority when the board turned down AT&T’s Iacono Farm plan, said a strong selling point is that the top 25 feet of the tower will be dedicated to equipment for East Hampton’s emergency communications system. (The wind turbine tower at Iacono Farm on Long Lane had been AT&T’s preferred place to put the cell phone antennas, but the planning board rejected that proposal in 2017, urging AT&T use the Northwest Woods site.)
Planning board member Randall Parsons said settlement of the litigation constrained the board’s discretion too much — the town cannot require a lower tower.
“Those codes are out of date and have not taken into account changes in federal law, case law, FCC rulings, and advances in technology,” he said. “In my opinion, the town urgently needs to update its master plan and codes in this area to be more proactive in the location and design of wireless communications and emergency services facilities.”
Kathleen Cunningham was on the fence as to whether she would vote to approve it. She pointed out the board had previously discussed the presence of a generator by the tower, and how there was a need to mitigate the possibility of diesel oil spilling.
“Ground water protection — I don’t see it anywhere in the project description,” she said. “Clean water is the thing I’m trying to address now, before we actually formally accept this resolution, and I’m getting pushback from sources I don’t expect.” Cunningham ended up voting against the tower with Parsons and Louis Cortese.
Neighbors of the brush dump site are still strongly opposed to the location and have hired attorneys set on filing a lawsuit against the town once the building permit is officially issued.
Senior town attorney NancyLynn Thiele expressed confidence that it will not derail the project, despite a clause in the settlement between the town and AT&T stating: “If the authority of any defendant to enter into this settlement agreement, or to have approved the brush dump facility, is subject to legal challenge, and the challenge is not resolved within 90 days of the date for approval, AT&T, at its sole discretion,” can abandon the brush dump site and return to Iacono Farm without the town having a say in the matter. Andrew Campanelli, representing four of the neighbors in opposition, has already promised to take the town to court.
The approvals issued by the town’s boards were “not arbitrary or capricious,” Thiele said, adding the town has followed the process exactly as is required by law.