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Cell tower plan near Blue Hills raises furor

T-Mobile would build at Boy Scout camp

A Camp Sayre map shows a possible cell tower site. A Camp Sayre map shows a possible cell tower site. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
By Johanna Seltz
Globe Correspondent / May 9, 2010

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MILTON — A telecommunications company’s plan to put a 120-foot-tall cell tower at a Boy Scout camp on the edge of Blue Hills Reservation is running into a buzz saw of opposition.

People living in the area don’t want the tower anywhere near their backyards, front yards, or the 7,000-acre state-owned park. And the state says the telecom pole cannot be built at the camp because of a conservation restriction on the property that prohibits commercial development.

“A cell tower would not be an allowed use,’’ said Rick Sullivan, commissioner of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which manages the Blue Hills and its 125 miles of trails. He said the state bought the conservation restriction for the Boy Scout land in 1995.

T-Mobile applied to Milton’s Zoning Board of Appeals in February for permission to install the tower at the Boy Scouts’ Camp Sayre on Unquity Road, saying it would “promote public safety by improving telecommunication capabilities in a significant dead zone.’’

The application also said T-Mobile had considered other sites, but rejected them for various reasons. Company spokeswoman Jane Builder said the 120-foot height was required to “clear obstacles which compromise wireless signals, and to provide the best possible coverage.’’

“We’re currently reviewing the easement to determine its applicability,’’ she said of the conservation restriction on the land. “We hope to be moving forward shortly on our plan to boost wireless service for Milton families.’’

The zoning board has scheduled its second hearing on the plan for May 19.

T-Mobile came to the Boy Scouts’ Minuteman Council — which serves about 8,000 youths in Boston, Milton, and 30 surrounding communities — with the proposal for the tower at Camp Sayre, a rustic enclave of campsites and cabins that opened in the late 1940s. The council’s headquarters is next to the 265-acre camp, which is surrounded by the Blue Hills Reservation and used mostly on weekends during the school year by local and visiting Scouts.

The tower would sit near the entrance to the camp, behind a maintenance shed and the “masters cabin,’’ where adult volunteers stay during Scout events. The small clearing is surrounded by trees and is home to an old canoe and assorted pieces of metal and wood.

Harold Pinkham, the interim executive director of the Minuteman Council, said the tower would improve the poor cellphone reception at the camp and provide much-needed revenue. He would not say how much T-Mobile would pay to use the camp property.

He said that the Boy Scouts did not initiate the process, which started before he took the council job in January.

“I want to make it clear that we’re not the ones who proposed the cell tower,’’ he said. T-Mobile “came to us. If it works out, that’s all well and good, but it’s not our proposal.’’

Pinkham also said the Boy Scouts were assured that the tower would be designed to fit in with its surroundings. And he noted that the camp has no close neighbors.

But the closest neighborhood, in the Hillside section of town, has joined the discussion, sending a letter to the zoning board that outlined its residents’ concerns.

The tower would “adversely affect the beauty and serenity of the Blue Hills Reservation and adjacent properties,’’ wrote John Lawton, cochairman of the Hillside Neighborhood Association.

Lawton also said the tower should not be in a historic area, and he noted that the Blue Hills Reservation roads are on the National Register of Historic Sites.

Last month the zoning board, which will decide whether to give T-Mobile a variance and special permit to build the tower, flew a balloon 120 feet high at the proposed tower location so residents could see how visible the structure would be.

Lawton said the balloon could be seen from the lower end of Harland Street and from some of the 22 hills in the Blue Hills Reservation, including popular hiking spots like Buck Hill and Hancock Hill.

“It’s clearly going to be visible in many locations in and around the neighborhood, and the beauty of the Blue Hills will be impaired — particularly in the fall and winter when the leaves are off the trees,’’ he said.

Milton has several other cellphone towers, some at Curry College and others in the steeples of local churches, according to the town’s planning director, William Clark.

There also are towers on top of buildings at Franklin and Adams streets, he said.

The only very tall cell tower, which went up in 2003, is next to the American Legion post on Granite Avenue, Clark said.

That tower also is embroiled in controversy: The American Legion is challenging the zoning board’s decision last year to extend the tower’s permit for another five years, according to its attorney, Robert D. O’Leary.

O’Leary said the permit process was flawed and should be restarted.

He also said the Legion would like the pole moved to a less conspicuous spot on its property, and would like more money from the pole’s operator, SBA, which pays about $3,000 a month to use the land.

Johanna Seltz can be reached by e-mail at seelenfam@verizon.net.

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