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Scituate cell tower approved for private property

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  September 26, 2013 04:47 PM

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Scituate’s Zoning Board of Appeals has approved a cell tower on a piece of private property at 361 Tilden Road, much to the chagrin of nearby neighbors.

Locals who have been fighting the proposed 150-foot tall AT&T cell tower are washing their hands of the situation, saying that an appeal would be costly and fruitless.

“It’s a blindness to the larger needs of the community,” said Stephen Tooker, a Tilden Road resident and neighbor to the cell tower. “I’m very disappointed in the decision.”

Debate about the tower has been ongoing since 2010, when AT&T first suggested a tower for the site.

Town officials countered by offering land at Wampatuck Elementary School, which would be leased out to AT&T. Despite beginning the process, AT&T withdrew its proposal in 2011.

The project made its way to the forefront again in 2013, yet officials shot down the idea of placing the cell tower on school grounds after hearing an uproar from local parents.

The rejection placed the project back in the residential neighborhood, where it has undergone Zoning Board of Appeal review since May.

In a vote 4 to 1, with all primary members voting unanimously, the project was approved with conditions on Sept. 19.

Zoning Board Chairman Sara Trezise said her affirmative vote boiled down to the evidence as well as the local and federal rules.

“I particularly felt that they have held their burden of proof with respect to number 1, being entitled to a tower,” Trezise said. “They showed there was a significant gap. And they showed there was no reasonable, feasible, and available alternative site for the cell phone tower.”

Though neighbors have suggested AT&T use a site on a property called “Niles Terrace”, a site encumbered by wetlands, Trezise said under the definition of the law, the site was not available.

“AT&T through their evidence have said [the Niles Terrace site also] won’t solve their gap in coverage,” she said. “If it doesn’t work for them to solve the gap in coverage, it’s not really an alterative.”

The board requested several conditions for the tower, including that it be disguised as a tree, be placed 80 feet from the property line, and have technology that would allow it to collapse in on itself rather than on neighboring properties if it ever fell.

Generator operation checks, construction, and maintenance times were also all restricted to limit the impact to neighbors.

Trezise said the final conclusion, even with conditions to protect neighbors, was not an easy one to reach.

“It was a difficult decision and I tried to impress upon the people who objected that we took their concerns very seriously,” she said.

According to Will Keyser, a spokesman for AT&T, the tower will improve coverage from 36 percent of Scituate customers with service to 70 percent. Construction would begin sometime next year pending approval from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

Keyser said there are not currently plans for additional towers.

The additional coverage will significantly help residents, Trezise said, saying many have complained that they have not been able to use their cell phones in their homes.

Tooker agreed that improved cell service has always been the goal, but said there should have been more of an effort to develop a more palatable option, preferably one that would have allowed the town to receive some money.

“Those of us in opposition to the cell tower at Tilden were never in opposition to improved wireless services, we just didn’t think this was the way to go, and it was about how could that need be best served while serving the needs of the community,” he said.

A petition article requesting that Niles Terrace be leased for the tower is still on the warrant for Town Meeting, scheduled for Nov. 4.

Yet the pending construction has already had an impact. Tooker noted that one family with young children that abuts the site has already put their house up for sale.

“They don’t wish to exposure their children 24/7 to radiation from the tower. That’s already happened. [The cell tower already] caused an action. The neighborhood will change as a result,” Tooker said.

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