Written by Brad Durrell
Thursday, 17 December 2009 11:58
June Lee is ready to do battle to stop a 160-foot-tall cell phone tower from being built at Snow’s Farm.
“To me, Jan. 4 is D-Day,” Lee said of the day less than three weeks away when Message Center Management (MCM) may file a formal application to place a tower on the 57-acre farm on Sport Hill Road.
A group of opponents, including some neighbors of Snow’s Farm, gathered Monday night in Lee’s living room to organize opposition to placing a tower on one of two potential sites on the farm that borders Hickory Knoll Drive, where she lives.
They know they may face an uphill battle because of federal and state legislation that favors allowing the towers to create a better wireless telecommunications system.
The Connecticut Siting Council, an appointed statewide agency, decides where to put cell towers and permission isn’t needed from town zoning and wetlands commissions, although input from municipal officials and local residents is considered during the deliberation process.
That means the situation has changed from when Easton residents organized to fight proposals — successfully, in a few cases — in the past.
Statewide, the Siting Council has approved the vast majority of applications, although most have been altered during the process.
“We have to be a force to be reckoned with,” Lee said of the need for visible public opposition in Easton.
Opponents also must decide how to react to the town’s push to offer an alternative site for a tower in the northern end of of the Veterans Field property, near where Old Oak Road becomes South Park Avenue.
First Selectman Thomas A. Herrmann. who attended part of the meeting, said the best way to stop a tower from going up at Snow’s Farm is to suggest another viable site. He said the Veterans Field site has fewer homes nearby, is less visible and would bring the town lease money.
The town Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) reversed itself earlier this week to give a favorable recommendation to the Veterans Field site. The P&Z was asked to make an advisory opinion on this property by the Board of Selectmen since it involves town-owned land.
Lee said the P&Z’s reversal was influenced by growing public opposition to the Snow’s Farm proposal. “We made a lot of noise in a very short time,” she said.
The town already has two cell phone towers — one at the town-owned former landfill on North Street and the other on a private farm on Everett Road — as well as a small communications tower on a hill at Silverman’s Farm.
Participants at the meeting worried that more tower proposals are coming in Easton, particularly in the western part of town near Black Rock Road.
Town approach reaction
While some people favored Herrmann’s approach at the meeting, others were opposed.
“I feel as though we’re a little boxed in, based on what the town did,” said Princie Falkenhagen. She favors opposing all possible sites to make a stand, a view shared by former First Selectman William Kupinse, a vocal critic of cell phone towers in Easton.
“How uncomfortable can we make it for MCM?” Falkenhagen asked.
Tom Dollard agreed. “We don’t want cell towers,” said Dollard, complaining the towers are needed more for vehicles passing through town than for Easton homeowners.
Falkenhagen said people will accept reduced cell coverage in Easton in return for a rural way of life. “There are certain things you buy into when you move here,” she said, mentioning the lack of retail stores and other conveniences.
Some others didn’t want to put a tower near Veterans Field, Easton Community Center and Helen Keller Middle School; and others felt supporting Veterans Field just involved moving the problem to someone else’s back yard.
James Riling suggested taking “a pro-active approach,” which might involve identifying the least objectionable location in town. He also said Easton needed to find out how other towns have fought towers and if it made sense to hire lawyers at this stage.
Riling also pointed out there are people in town who do want better cell phone service.
Jeff Becker said an economic argument may be most effective, convincing telecommunication firms that Easton isn’t densely developed enough to need so many towers. “What are you trying to do — provide coverage for the cows?” Becker asked.
Lee said an argument could be made that Easton is “a very unusual town” because of its rural character. She said a tower at Snow’s Farm would turn Easton into “an ugly, defaced mess.”
Irv Snow reacts
Irv Snow said he doesn’t understand town officials’ push for Veterans Field. “It’s awkward because it’s taller,” he said.
A tower at Veterans Field likely would likely be 199 feet tall due to its lower elevation, and still would provide coverage to a smaller area.
This would increase the possibility an additional tower would be necessary in the area. Representatives at MCM have called it a less desirable location.
Snow was taken aback by the P&Z reversal on Veterans Field, attributing it to political factors in town. “It’s weird how they have taken a 180-degree turn,” he said.
He said it would benefit neighbors to support his cell phone tower because the added income would keep the farm financially viable. “If we don’t do something like a cell tower, the farm could change dramatically,” he said of the possible need to develop the land.
The last time there was an effort to put a cell tower on his family’s farm, Snow said, a tower was placed at the town-owned landfill instead.
“It seems like they want to help the farmers but then don’t really want to help the farmers,” he said.
Herrmann was scheduled to meet with MCM officials on Dec. 16 to discuss the Veterans Field site now that it’s been backed by the P&Z. He said MCM might delay its application to better study the town-owned site and consider possible lease terms.
Herrmann said if an alternative to Snow’s Farm isn’t proposed, the Connecticut Siting Council almost certainly will support one of the Snow’s Farm sites.
He realizes some people don’t want any towers in town, and oppose both the Snow’s Farm and Veterans Field sites. “It’s like saying would you like your hand or foot cut off?” Herrmann said.
Herrmann said the selectmen’s policy is for the town to only offer a town-owned site as an alternative when a more objectionable private site has been proposed.
Opponents also discussed ideas such as distributing a petition against the towers; investigating alternative transmitting technologies such as using satellites or having multiple small transmission towers; increasing the height of existing towers both in and near Easton to increase coverage; and approaching Irv Silverman and an abutting property owner about putting a tower at the top of a hill that might cover most of the town.