Homeland Towers cleared a major hurdle Tuesday for its proposed cell tower on New Castle's West End, with the Planning Board unanimously giving its approval.
The board gave its nod to the site plan and special permit required for the 130-foot monopole, which is proposed for 50 Hoags Cross Rd.
The backing is a victory for Homeland, which , in partnership with AT&T. The monopole will have room for four other wireless carriers to co-locate. Homeland argues that the tower is needed in order to improve cell phone service in the area.
Anthony Gioffre, Homeland's attorney, thanked the board, telling members that they “really tested us.” He added that he thinks it is now “a better project than we had.”
“My only observation is, Tony, when it first started, you didn’t need reading glasses," said board member Gerard Curran, joking about the length of time the review process took. The board spent more than a year and a half reviewing the proposal.
The approval is conditional, however. After Gioffre raised concern over language in the approval resolution that would allow for the town to carry its own insurance in connection to the project, the board opted to make sure that the issue is resolved coupled with advice of counsel. Les Steinman, a town attorney for land use matters, told the board that if the matter can't be resolved, then they will return.
“I don’t really see a problem with putting it in the trustworthy hands of counsel," Planning Board Chair Richard Brownell said about getting advice. Steinman told the board that they could have put approval off again after getting a legal response.
The tower is highly controversial with West End neighbors, who fear that it could ruin the aesthetics of the area, pose a potential health hazard and be out of place in a residential community.
The last meeting was fairly quiet, in contrast to the public hearing pahse held earlier this summer.
Nicole Riche, a Millwood Task Force member who lives near the tower site, has consistently opposed it.
“Well, I’m disappointed that they approved it," she said in an interview. "I don’t think it belongs in a residential neighborhood, and I also think that historically so much has been dumped on the West End and it just seems to continue to be happening.”
Some West End residents have felt that their section of town has, or is, often getting a series of unwanted projects that they feel collectively undermine the area's rural character. The , which would be down the street from the tower, has drawn opposition on the West End for the same reason, with folks looking at each proposal as one combined negative to their section of town.
The Planning Board was, as the saying goes, caught between a rock and a hard place. Federal law bars local governments from simply saying "no" to cell tower applications, according to a 1996 statute. What the board could do, however, is direct Homeland to look at alternative sites; the town code lists residential areas at the bottom for cell tower desireability. As a result, Homeland has spent its time since the 2010 introduction looking for other sites. Manny Vicente, Homeland's president, that more than 30 alternatives were looked at, which did not pan out.
Only one alternative site made it far in the process: Amsterdam Park. For early 2012, Homeland and the town were in talks about signing a lease to allow for the structure. However, Homeland did not prefer it; a study done for the company showed that the Amsterdam site would have made for a more visible tower, while the Hoags Cross site would not be seen from as many angles. In addition, Homeland to existing large power lines, in a viewshed that's already aesthetically altered. Residents, at a June public hearing, also voiced opposition to using Amsterdam.
Planning Board members shared Homeland's sentiments for Amsterdam, even if they were not gung-ho about Hoags Cross. Placing it on the residential property as choosing the lesser of two evils.
Homeland is not through yet, however. New Castle will not grant a building permit for the tower until the property owner clears a series of outstanding violations. Robert Cioli, deputy town engineer, said these include issues with fill possibility having been put in wetlands, stormwater and steep slopes. The land is owned by Laurentino Rodrigues, according to the town.
While the contentious process in New Castle is winding down, Homeland will have to go through it again in Mount Pleasant, according to media reports. Its new proposal is for a 110-foot cell tower at the intersection of Bear Ridge and Watch Hill roads, south of Chappaqua, according to reports. A petition against it has garnered about 250 signatures, with folks in the area giving similar concerns as West End residents have.