Springs Fire District Tower In Hot Water?

T. E. McMorrow
The monopole on Fort Pond Boulevard has generated controversy since its construction several years ago.

The Springs Fire District’s effort to legalize and enlarge a monopole communications antenna on their property on Fort Pond Boulevard has recently received a pair of setbacks.

According to the district’s attorney, Carl Irace, who spoke to the Town of East Hampton’s planning board June 3, the 150-foot-tall existing monopole is being used by the fire district, “but not at its full capacity.”

An article 78 lawsuit against the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals launched by the fire district was dismissed by New York State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Farneti on May 12. That suit had sought to annul a decision by the ZBA in late 2015 that upheld a neighbor’s complaints against the fire district. Then, on June 3, the district went before the town’s planning board, seeking the permits needed for a new 180-foot tower to replace the existing pole.

“The extra height is only for the police equipment,” Irace said.

In the 2015 decision, the ZBA board found the fire district did not go through the proper permitting process when it erected the monopole. Of particular consequence was the lack of an environmental impact study done by the town under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act. The Springs Fire District had argued that it was, in and of itself, a governmental unit, according to Farneti’s May 12 decision, and therefore was immune to such an outside review, and that as a governmental agency, conducted the review, balancing the pluses and minuses of the tower for the neighborhood.

Farneti rejected the district’s argument in his decision, which has the effect of nullifying the building permits issued by the town for the now existing 150-foot tower.

According to Irace, the taller tower was needed to hold emergency communications equipment for the town, as part of its ongoing effort to improve communications during emergencies across the town. East Hampton, he said needed the additional height for its equipment.

In a memo to the planning board, Eric Schantz, a senior planner for the town, said that the planning board needed to decide whether the proposed tower would have an adverse effect on the Springs area around Fort Pond Boulevard. Aesthetics are among factors that the board should consider, Schantz wrote. He said that the monopole would be visible in both the Springs historic district, as well as an area designated as being of historic value.

The planning board did a straw poll on the 180-foot-tower proposal, and it became clear that the members are prepared to require the fire district to produce an impact statement, which can be time consuming and costly, though a final vote was not taken.

Irace said on Sunday that the district was considering whether or not to appeal Farneti’s ruling. He expressed frustration over the planning board’s actions.

“The town invited us to do this,” he said, “and now, they seem to be slamming the door on it.”

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