Copake planners wrestle with tower details

COPAKE–The Town Planning Board will have a radio frequency expert weigh in on the application for the new cell phone tower in town before it can be deemed complete.

Mariner Tower, II, LLC representative Chris Ciolfi appeared before the Planning Board May 5 to try to tie up any loose ends in connection with the application to build a 150-foot lattice tower on the West Copake property of Ezra J. Link, Jr., at 3124 County Route 7. Both Mariner and Mr. Link are the applicants.

The proposed site is east of Route 7 between Pumpkin Hollow Roads North and South.

Mr. Ciolfi talked about providing the board with visibility maps and sight lines as part of “a balloon float” not a computer simulation. Typically, a balloon is sent up at sunrise and kept aloft for three or four hours while technicians drive around and document at which points the balloon can and cannot be seen. The points are then recorded on a map.

Floating a balloon is somewhat like “flying a kite” or “fishing,” said Mr. Ciolfi, noting, “you need that perfect day.” Since the perfect day materializes on the whim of the weather, several dates are chosen and publicized in the hopes one of them turns out to be good.

Planning Board Chair Marcia Becker mentioned that the purpose of the town cell phone law is to preserve the character and appearance of the town, while allowing adequate telecommunications services to be developed. She then turned to the law’s definition of “adequate coverage,” saying it was “the only controversial definition” connected with the application.

Mr. Ciolfi noted there has been significant “evolution” in the industry since the town’s law was created in 2001 and said it is “much more competitive now.”

Though the law defines “adequate” in technical measurement terms, Mr. Ciolfi said, “town’s can’t really set a standard.”

He said the project qualifies under the law because based on the existing coverage map, “We already don’t have the quality. We comply because the signal” is inadequate.

Planning Board member Chris Grant said the board will retain an independent consultant to give “a solid recommendation” before the board decides anything, including whether to deem the application complete.

The tower will require two variances, one for height, and the other for setback distance from residences.

The proposed tower is 150-feet high, while the law provides for a maximum tower height of 125 feet. A 1,500-foot setback from residences is required, but the proposed tower has only about 1,200 feet setback from two residences.

The “spirit and intent” of the proposal is to keep the tower as inconspicuous as possible by siting it at the edge of a wooded area surrounded on three-sides by trees, said Mr. Ciolfi. The 1,500-foot setback could be met, given the size of the 155-acre property, but that would require moving the tower further out into the middle of the field and to a lower ground elevation, which would not provide the maximum coverage sought, he said.

Since the tower applicants will have to appear before both the Planning Board for site plan review and the Zoning Board of Appeals for the variances, Ms. Becker said the board will integrate procedures and possibly set concurrent public hearings with the ZBA.

After some discussion about the size of the parcel required for the tower and the related forms that will have to be filled out related to environmental assessment and agriculture (the site is on a working farm), the board decided to schedule site visits, with three members at a time to keep the number under a quorum.

Ezra Link, Sr., father of the applicant, who was at the meeting, told the board, “I got a pickup truck, you can all get in the back.”

The board will resume consideration of the tower at its next meeting June 2.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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