A lengthy battle over where to install a 155-foot tall AT&T cell phone tower in Scituate will drag into Town Meeting, with neighbors of the currently proposed site pushing for alternative locations.
A warrant article proposed by the neighbors seeks to put the tower at an address on Nile Terrace. It would be at least the third seriously considered spot for the tower in the last three years.
“It appears that AT&T is going to be able to put up a cell tower, and wherever it goes, there is going to be upset people,” said Scituate Selectman Tony Vegnani.
The company has been trying since 2010 to improve cell phone coverage in the area, and initially suggested a private property at 361 Tilden Rd.
Town officials developed what they believed was a less intrusive alternative – to put the tower on town-owned land near Wampatuck Elementary school. A Request for Proposal was created to lease the land.
Though officials and residents say AT&T submitted a bid, the company withdrew its proposal in 2011.
Two years later, the company was back with a plan to develop the land on Wampatuck Elementary.
Yet in a meeting in April, nearby residents and elementary school parents spoke out against the idea, and selectmen decided in a vote 2-to-2 to squash the proposed location.
“Back in April, I voted to put it on town property because it was my understanding that AT&T federally has the rights to put a cell tower where there is no coverage,” said Vegnani, one of the officials on the losing side of the argument. “My thought is if someone should get the money, the town should.”
The rejection put the proposal back at the Tilden Road property.
An AT&T spokesperson couldn't be reached for comment, however in a letter sent to the Board of Selectmen on Aug. 12, the company requested that officials reconsider the Wampatuck Elementary School site.
"There are other areas on the Wampatuck School property which may be more acceptable," the letter states.
The company has asked the board to reconsider a slightly altered application for their Aug. 20 meeting.
Vegnani said the board most likely would reconsider the proposal.
"There is a lot of work that goes into getting an RFP together and we’ve done it twice on this project. But I don’t know why we wouldn’t [reconsider it]," Vegnani said.
In the meantime, AT&T is going through a Zoning Board of Appeals process for approval of the Tilden Road site. The Zoning Board most likely will make a decision mid-September
Yet nearby resident Stephen Tooker hopes that a different location at Nile Terrace can be developed.
“We’re not against improved wireless communication,” he said. “Most people in this section of Scituate would say it could be improved. There are some gaps in coverage and we’d like to see them improved. Our concern is this tower in this site is entirely too intrusive a solution to the problem, and there are other alternatives much less intrusive.”
Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi said the site proposed by residents is classified as unbuildable by the assessor's office and has significant wetlands. Regardless, Tooker has already turned in a petition for a warrant article, which would authorize selectmen to develop a Request for Proposals to lease the Nile Terrace property for a cell tower.
Town Meeting has not yet been scheduled, but would happen before Nov. 15
Though a tower at the Nile Terrace property wouldn't improve coverage as well as one on Tilden Road or the site at Wampatuck, Tooker said Nile Terrace is far less intrusive and remote.
“The site we’re pushing at the moment is undeveloped property along the railroad track and our engineering consultant [said] the closest houses are 1000 feet away, where there are many houses within 500 feet in [the Tilden Road] neighborhood,” Tooker said.
According to Tooker, who says he is backed by many Scituate residents, the alternative is much better than the current proposal.
At the Tilden Road site, the tower would disrupt the historic nature of the area, even if it's disguised as a pine tree, Tooker said. Concern is also high for the noise the tower base would emit.
Additionally, while the FCC says frequencies emitted below a certain threshold are safe, Tooker is still concerned about families with young children that live in the area.
“Three-to-four-month-olds have thin skulls, rapidly developing nervous systems, and there is a health issue for some of the people in the area. Though that can’t be used by the Zoning Board of Appeals [in their determination], it’s still it is a matter of concern,” Tooker said.
Tooker’s attorney said that the Nile Terrace alternative would also show a prime criterion for Zoning Board of Approval rejection – that there are alternatives to the proposal.
“One of the findings the board has to make is that there is no feasible alternative. What we’re trying to demonstrate [is] that there is,” said Richard Serkey, of the Plymouth law firm Winokur, Serkey & Rosenberg.
Vegnani noted that even if the residents were successful in their Town Meeting article, it would be up to AT&T to respond to an RFP. If the company receives Zoning Board approval, the tower could still go on Tilden Road despite Town Meeting procedures.
“It’s a really difficult situation, there is no good answer, and if I lived up against the property the cell tower is going on, I wouldn’t be happy either,” Vegnani said.
Tooker said residents tried to push for a more hidden alternatives, such as putting towers in existing flag poles or multiple antennas throughout town - both of which were rejected as being too expensive and not adequately solving the problem.
In lieu of both of those proposals, Nile Terrace is the best option, he said.