Saturday December 8, 2012

NEWFANE -- When AT&T representatives announced that they would consider alternate sites for a proposed telecommunication tower, Newfane residents responded with a slew of suggestions.

But the company, after reviewing a "long list," has decided that none of those sites matches its initial -- and controversial -- proposed tower site on Oak Hill Road.

So AT&T is going ahead with a state Public Service Board application to build a 130-foot-tall structure on that property.

"We haven't been able to come up with an alternative site that provides even close to the same amount of coverage," said David Vivian, a real estate consultant for AT&T.

Vivian and Will Dodge, a Burlington-based attorney representing AT&T, attended a Thursday meeting to again make their case for building the tower at 66 Oak Hill Road in South Newfane.

Dodge acknowledged that the tower would not do much for cell service in Newfane Village, adding that "there's no one (tower) site that you could put in Newfane that would cover the whole town."

Instead, the tower would be designed to provide cellular coverage in a corridor stretching from Route 30 in the east to Dover in the west. That was identified as a "target corridor" by the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, Dodge said.

Some residents argued at Thursday's Selectboard meeting that there already is cellular coverage in parts of the Dover Road area.


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But Dodge displayed color-coded maps that showed a dramatic difference after the installation of a tower: There were many more greens and blues, which indicated the availability of cell service inside homes and vehicles.

"It's much more robust than what we have now," Dodge said.

Some who attended Thursday's meeting spoke in favor of the project, with one man declaring that "it's about time that we move ahead." But the AT&T representatives also continued to hear vehement opposition to the Oak Hill Road location.

"I'm concerned about my property value," said Rich King, a resident of nearby Miller Lane. "I'm concerned about the view."

Jay Urato, another nearby resident, also argued that property values would plummet for those with homes in the immediate vicinity of a tower.

"There's no way I would have bought my house if there was a cell tower that close," Urato said.

Urato and his wife led an effort to gather alternative locations for a Newfane communications tower via e-mail and Facebook. Those suggestions were forwarded to AT&T.

"A lot of the sites were just too far outside of our search ring to be considered," Dodge said.

The company took a detailed look at three alternative sites -- off Deer Hill Road, near Beetlestone Hill Road and near the four corners on Parish Hill Road -- but deemed them unsuitable because they did not provide the same coverage as the Oak Hill Road tower would.

The corridor targeted by AT&T covers seven and six-tenths miles. The Oak Hill tower is expected to cover about four miles of that area.

Even the best of the three alternative sites, Parish Hill, offers "close to a mile less in coverage along that corridor," Vivian said.

In response to complaints that AT&T had not considered another proposed site on Stratton Hill Road, Vivian said the company would take a look at that location. But he was not optimistic about its prospects.

"It's not likely that it would provide the same amount of coverage (as the Oak Hill tower)," he said.

As could be expected, those conclusions did not sit well with tower opponents. Dan DeWalt of South Newfane said he did not believe AT&T seriously considered other properties.

"This company is just laughing at us and running roughshod over our interests," DeWalt said.

Jake Urato said the Oak Hill tower would sit far too close to a cluster of homes, and she argued that AT&T had not given sufficient weight to that fact.

"I just wish they would have taken a more objective approach," she said.

The Selectboard again was left in the middle of the contentious debate.

The town has an ordinance regulating telecommunication facilities, and the AT&T tower would violate that ordinance's height and setback requirements. But Selectboard Chairman Jon Mack said AT&T had not applied for a town permit and was under no legal obligation to do so.

"They have the right to essentially skip this level," Mack said.

However, AT&T does need a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board. The company's application is pending.

"The next step for us is, we would try to make a filing around the third week of December," Dodge said.

Newfane residents then could send comments or concerns to the board. Mack said the Selectboard also will weigh in on the matter, but only after officials see the results of a review by an independent consultant.

The consultant's review is expected to happen within the context of the Public Service Board's deliberations. Mack said the Selectboard will make its decision after taking further comment at a public meeting.

He acknowledged that the board faces tough choices.

"It puts us in an extremely difficult position," Mack said. "You're talking about very different, competing interests that are very difficult to balance against each other."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.