Placing the proposed western New Castle cell tower in Amsterdam Park was met with opposition Monday at a public hearing during the Planning Board's meeting.
Developer Homeland Towers, which is seeking to build a 130-foot structure at nearby 50 Hoags Cross Road, presented its viewshed findings for both locations during the meeting, accompanied by renderings. Homeland presented its data in response to negotiations with the town over using the site.
“I think it’s a really poor idea to even consider that site," said Bill McGinness, a resident of nearby Pinesbridge Road whose property adjoins the part of Amsterdam where the tower would be placed. He noted the role of topography in the tower's visibility, and expressed concern that it would be "shoehorned in" and require variances relating to set backs.
Homeland and the town entered talks amid opposition to the Hoags Cross site, which is a residential property and thus, according to the town's code, at the bottom of sites desired for cell tower development. The code favors commercial and industrial sites first. However, Les Steinman, counsel for the town on land use, told planning board members that other factors may be considered in addition.
Homeland maintains that Hoags Cross is a better site, arguing that it will be less visible than Amsterdam and propose less of an aesthetic issue because it would be situated close to existing power transmission towers, which are at heights of 133 and 110 feet.
“You can see what brought us to this area. You have very large existing structures there now," said Manny Vicente, Homeland's president.
By contrast, Homeland maintains that place the tower at Amsterdam would create more of a visual change.
“You’re introducing a new vertical element at the park where none exists," said Christopher Fisher, an attorney representing Homeland.
The viewshed photos and renderings were the product of balloon studies taken for both sites. For Amsterdam, Homeland did studies for its proposed 130-foot monpole version - it will have external "arms" for colocating various wireless carriers - and a 150-foot alternative that looks like a flag pole. The flag pole version would need to be higher, according to Vicente, in order to fit in the same amount of equipment as the monopole.
Homeland claims that an Amsterdam tower would be visible in far more areas. Its findings state that the most visible area for Hoags Cross Road would be around Overlook Road - foliage would provide some screening, however, - and with a documented visibility of 800 feet. By contrast, Amsterdam has a documented visibility of 4,300, or a visual impact that is about three and a half times greater. The total visibility may be more than that, as it does not appear that the nearby Hudson Hills golf course was factored in. Viewshed photos for the golf course could not be obtained, but Homeland conducted renderings to show where it would be visible.
Planning Board member Tom Curley expressed concern about using Amsterdam, noting that the town has been restoring a nearby carriage house. While that building is intended for use as records storage in the short term, Curley was concerned that changing the area could "further frustrate" use of the building. He also expressed concerns about what the 2,500-square-foot compound at the base would mean for the park.
“Everything’s sort of a small scale," Bernice Rogowitz, a Pinesbridge resident, said of Amsterdam's character. She worried that the tower would be out of scale with the area.
“Why destroy a public park for something like this?” asked Mark Picucci, who grew up in the carriage house when his father was a caretaker for what was then the Amsterdam family estate. Picucci, who now lives on Hoags Cross, expressed sentiments in favor of something similar to what Homeland is arguing in its defense of its original plan, such as proximity to existing utility structures being preferred.
Planning Board Chairman Richard Brownell said that in his opinion, “We have two sites, both of which have issues, and neither one of them is, in my mind, perfect.” However, he noted that Homeland has already looked at about two dozen sites in the area. It appears that Hoags Cross and Amsterdam are now the only ones left that are deemed to be viable for improving cell phone service, based on Homeland's feedback to comment during the public hearing.
Some residents came out in opposition to both sites.
“I’m extremely opposed to either location," said Nancy Osborne, who lives on Overlook, which would be the most affected by the Hoags Cross version. She questioned whether there was a need for another tower, noting that service in her area appears fine. Curley, who also lives on the West End, noted from his experience that reception is an issue.
Nicole Riche, an Overlook resident and Millwood Task Force member, worried about establishing precedent by approving the tower, one that would undermine the residential character of the neighborhood.
“There’s a tipping point at some point," she said.
Sara Brewster, a West End resident and former planning board member, request that more information about maintenance traffic for the tower being provided, noting the Upper Westchester Muslim Society's proposed mosque for the intersection of Hoags Cross and Pinesbridge as another factor in total traffic change.
Homeland responded that the traffic will only be about five trips per month; the tower would have AT&T as a tenant, with colocation for up to four other carriers.
Homeland will come before the Planning Board again on July 17, Brownell announced. In response to board members' questions, Homeland was asked to produce information about a site line for the golf course, noise impact from the 2,500-square-foot compound that would be used for either site, a rendering of what a 10-foot compound screening fence at Amsterdam would look like, along with trees for the same purpose.