NEWFANE -- A proposed communications tower would have aesthetic impacts in South Newfane, but the effect will be "moderate," according to a new report from an independent consultant.
The consultant recommends camouflaging the 139-foot tower as a pine tree, and project applicant AT&T already plans to do that.
But the report does not recommend any other changes to the tower's design or its location on Oak Hill Road.
"It is my opinion that the proposed tower would not result in undue adverse visual impacts to the scenic and natural beauty of the area," wrote Jean Vissering, a Montpelier-based landscape architect.
Vissering had been retained by the state as officials review AT&T's request for a certificate of public good to build the tower.
The proposal has been controversial, with some residents concerned that the tower would be situated too close to a cluster of homes.
But AT&T has rejected other suggested sites for the tower, with administrators saying none would provide adequate cell-phone coverage in the targeted Dover Road corridor.
Newfane Selectboard asked the Vermont Public Service Board to consider alternate tower sites.
But the state did not order such a review. Instead, the Department of Public Service hired Vissering to examine only the aesthetic impacts of a tower built at AT&T's chosen location.
Vissering reviewed the company's application and also drove Newfane roads from which the tower might be visible according to the findings of an earlier "viewshed analysis" report prepared by Benjamin Caron of Massachusetts-based Caron & Associates.
Vissering noted that Newfane's terrain is "rugged with numerous hills and steep narrow valleys" and widespread forest cover.
"These characteristics limited (the tower's) visibility to a few vantage points which appeared to be accurately identified by Mr. Caron," she wrote. "The project site is located on a fairly undistinguished hilltop that is also lower than many surrounding hills viewed within the area."
She details how the tower might be visible in various spots along Dover Road, Beetlestone Hill Road, Spring Hill Road, Timson Hill Road, Newfane Hill Road, Depot Road and Sunset Lake Road.
But Vissering concluded that "visual impacts to the public generally will be minimal."
AT&T modified its initial proposal so that the tower will be camouflaged with false pine branches. Vissering backs this approach and notes that Windham Regional Commission has recommended "a variation of the typical design that is less regular in order to avoid a ‘bottlebrush' effect."
"If this is not currently being considered, I would recommend using this enhanced camouflage in this case," Vissering wrote. "The pine tree camouflage is fairly effective as it repeats the texture and color of the surroundings so that it does not draw attention to itself. By contrast, the metal monopole and antennas strongly contrast with their surroundings and therefore would be far more noticeable."
In her conclusions, Vissering writes that the tower "will result in adverse aesthetic impacts." But she also says that, "compared with other, similar projects I have reviewed, the visibility is moderate."
The tower "does not appear to violate a clear written standard intended to protect scenic resources," she wrote.
Overall, Vissering said, "the proposed tower would not appear offensive to the average person."
"Its visibility will be limited, and the pine-tree camouflage will soften the project's appearance from vantage points from which it will be seen," she reported. "The project is visible enough that, without the proposed camouflage, the project would have appeared offensive given the scenic and rural character of this landscape."
The full report is available on the town's website, http://newfanevt.com.
Newfane Selectboard members have been given extra time to respond to the report, and they may do so at their next meeting scheduled for Feb. 7. The state Public Service Board will rule on the AT&T application at some point after a Feb. 13 deadline for town comment.
But the consultant's conclusions are disappointing for Jake Urato, one of the South Newfane residents who has fought against the project.
She noted that AT&T bypassed Newfane's tower ordinance, and state officials did not grant the town's request for review of other sites. Urato believes a political push for expanded cellular and broadband coverage is overriding important local concerns.
"I'm not against technology. I'm not against cell towers," Urato said. "I just think they went over the top in terms of not listening to their citizens anymore."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.