COPAKE–The Town Planning Board gave final approval for the installation of a new cell tower at 3124 County Route 7 in West Copake during the board’s October 6 meeting.
Ancram resident Bob Roth, the one-man committee who spent the past five years pushing for an area cell tower, heaved a sigh of relief after the decision, finally seeing that his dogged efforts were not in vain.
Mariner Tower II, LLC, will erect a 165-foot lattice tower on land owned by Ezra Link, Jr. on the east side of the county road between Pumpkin Hollow Roads North and South.
The original proposal, submitted to the Planning Board for site plan approval in mid-February, called for a 150-foot tower at a site 985 feet above sea level. That proposal required two variances from the Town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), one for height because the law only allows for a 125-foot tower and the other a setback variance because the tower site was about 1,200 feet away from the nearest residence instead of the 1,500 feet required by law.
During both public hearings before the ZBA and the Planning Board, the vast majority of speakers voiced opinions in favor of the tower, primarily based on reasons of health and safety. Supporters said the tower would not only provide better cell phone service for residents using their cell phones to call for help, but would enhance the ability of firefighters and rescue squads to communicate in emergency situations.
At the July 28 ZBA public hearing, Peter Reed of Magley Road, who lives 1,200 feet from the original proposed site, told the board the tower would “compromise the pristine hillside.” At a continuation of that public hearing August 25, Michael Cohen of High Meadow Road told the ZBA that the cell tower was not compatible with the landscape and would have a negative effect on his property values.
Chris Ciolfi, the representative for Mariner Tower, subsequently withdrew the original proposal and moved the tower site 400 feet southeast, which eliminated the need for a setback variance from the nearest residence, Mr. Reed’s, but that dropped the tower’s ground elevation by 18 feet. To make up most of the difference, Mr. Ciolfi asked for a 165-foot tower, which the ZBA approved by a vote of four to one August 25, with several conditions, including ones related to disassembly of the tower in the event of abandonment.
The final stumbling block for the Planning Board, discussed October 6, was the concept of “adequate coverage” as defined in the Town Code and whether the applicant met the standard. The issue was resolved by memorandum submitted by Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea.
The attorney wrote that the town’s consultant found that radio frequency (RF) studies submitted by the applicant were accurate. He said coverage in the town “is nearly non-existent,” adding, “I estimate that at least 75% of the Town (and quite clearly more than 75%) will be covered by the proposed new project.” Mr. Rappleyea concluded that the Mariner tower would meet the coverage standard.
After some wrangling over whether the tower should be a monopole or a lattice-type, (two members liked monopoles, four liked lattice), everyone voted to approve the tower application.
Mr. Ciolfi, who began appearing before the Planning Board in May, told The Columbia Paper this week that the weather will play a major role in how fast the tower goes up, and he must submit documents to the town’s building inspector before anything can happen.
It takes an average of 10-weeks to erect a tower and then the local land-line phone carrier has to connect the AT&T site, Mr. Ciolfi said. The West Copake tower will initially serve AT&T customers, though there will be space on the tower for other interested providers to rent. County 911 will be given free space on the top of the tower in perpetuity for it antennas.
Mr. Ciolfi said he hopes the West Copake tower will at least be started this year, but if the weather doesn’t cooperate it may not get off the ground until next spring. In all likelihood, the tower will not be finalized and online until sometime next year.
The West Copake tower will fit into an AT&T network of towers built by Mariner in recent months, one on the South Egremont, MA, side of the Catamount Ski Area, another in Martindale on the southwest side of Route 23, which is complete but has not yet been connected.
Mariner’s next project is in Ancram at 2259 Route 82 on the property of Stephen Tucker and Heidi Baldwin. Mr. Ciolfi attended an initial September sketch plan meeting in Ancram, but had to attend the October 6 Planning Board meeting in Copake, which prevented him from getting to the Ancram Planning Board meeting on the same date.
He said he expects to get back in front of the Ancram Planning Board at a special meeting sometime this month or at the regular Planning Board meeting in November. No doubt, Bob Roth will be there.