Pieces of cell tower puzzle not yet in place

COPAKE — Mariner Tower’s application to build a 150-foot lattice cell tower remains in limbo for another month after a majority of planners decided the application is not yet complete. Also at the Planning Board’s June 2 meeting, the first hint that the tower might face some local opposition came to light.

Planning Board Chair Marcia Becker entered into the record: a letter of support for the tower from the Community Rescue Squad; a resume for Mark Hoppe of St. Paul, Minnesota, the board’s radio frequency expert; a determination by the Federal Aviation Administration that the tower does not have to be registered; and a package from Mariner Tower representative Chris Ciolfi objecting to the town’s definition of “adequate coverage.”

Though Mr. Ciolfi did not agree with the definition, noting “standards have changed,” he did say, “We do comply with it” and sited case law about coverage of the signals from cell phone towers.

Planning Board member Skip Pilch reported on the visit made by himself, Ms. Becker and board member George Filipovits to the proposed cell tower site at 3124 County Route 7, the property of Ezra Link, Jr. in West Copake. Both Mariner Tower, II, LLC, and Mr. Link are the applicants for the tower permit.

“I think the site is probably as unobtrusive as we could find. That’s not to say the tower won’t be able to be seen,” said Mr. Pilch, who noted that application “can be made to comply with much of the town’s requirements.”

Just then Carrol Allen of Flower Top Lane, who said he was the closest neighbor to the proposed site, stood up from his seat in the audience and asked to speak about the project. Ms. Becker informed him that he would have to return when the board conducts a public hearing on the matter at some future date. He then left.

One of the town law’s requirements is that site utilities be buried underground, but according to Mr. Pilch an inspection by one of the town’s consultants found the site to be “very ledgey” and to cut through the existing shale and stone will “create a water problem. Bringing power in above ground would be the most common sense way to do it,” he said.

The Planning Board can waive the underground requirement at its discretion.

Ms. Becker also noted that the power will have to travel up a long steep hill adjacent to an Army Corps of Engineers wetland.

In going over the documents on file, the board noted that a question on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) checklist with regard to wilderness and wildlife had not been answered.

Mr. Ciolfi told the board the agencies that are putting together the answers to those questions are usually good about getting back to him, but he has no control over when that will be.

Ms. Becker asked Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea whether the Planning Board could send the application on to the Zoning Board of Appeals for consideration of variances for height and setback without having the environmental assessment form complete. He said the Planning Board will likely be declared the lead agency and it would be appropriate to do that.

Board member Chris Grant was adamant that the board’s radio frequency consultant review the application before it goes anywhere, and the consultant won’t be able to do that until the end of June. “To be fair to the Town of Copake, we’re not qualified to opine on a cell tower,” said Mr. Grant.

Ms. Becker thought that the application could move on despite that, and Mr. Ciolfi made it known that he wanted to “get the party started, get public input and start a dialogue. I’d love to have it deemed complete.”

Mr. Grant noted that once the application is deemed complete, that starts the clock ticking on when the balloon float has to take place.

Attorney Carl Whitbeck, who was there representing a neighboring property owner, said the application cannot be deemed complete because of the absence of the wildlife report, which is a requirement under the state Environmental Quality Review Act.

Attorney Rappleyea disagreed, saying the board has “substantial compliance with the items it needs, that does not mean it’s incomplete in my opinion.”

After some more discussion about time lines, Ms. Becker asked for a motion to deem the application complete. Mr. Pilch made the motion, but when no one offered a second to the motion, Ms. Becker seconded it herself. Mr. Grant and board members Jon Urban and Steve Savarese opposed the motion, leaving only Ms. Becker and Mr. Pilch in favor.

The board will take up the application again at its July 7 meeting.

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