NEWFANE -- The town's conservation commission has withdrawn its concerns about a proposed, controversial communications tower in South Newfane.
Chairman Bruce Hesselbach said the commission determined during a recent balloon test that the AT&T tower would not be visible from a popular lookout on the town trail.
Therefore, Hesselbach has notified town officials that the commission will not object to the tower's potential location on Oak Hill Road.
"We were very, very happy that it didn't interfere with our lookout," Hesselbach said.
He acknowledged that "there are still issues with the neighbors" near the tower site. But he said those do not fall within the commission's purview.
"I hope they'll be able to work those out," Hesselbach said.
AT&T has taken heat from some who say the 130-foot tower would be situated too near a cluster of homes.
But the company has rejected a list of alternate tower sites proposed by residents, saying those properties would not provide anywhere near as much cellular coverage in the Dover Road corridor as the Oak Hill tower would.
The tower would violate height and setback restrictions in a Newfane ordinance. But AT&T, while asking for a favorable recommendation from the Selectboard, has said it will apply directly to the state Public Service Board for a certificate of public good to erect the tower.
The conservation commission had been the first to voice concerns about the AT&T plan. Hesselbach previously had said the tower might mar the view from the lookout on the town trail.
On Dec. 7, AT&T flew a balloon 130 feet high at the proposed tower site in order to gauge the structure's visual impacts.
While the balloon was visible from the base of the trail near the town garage, "when we hiked up to the lookout, we could not see the balloon from any angle," Hesselbach wrote in a note to the Selectboard.
"While we were there, we met Benjamin Caron, who was conducting the test," Hesselbach wrote. "He had a GPS and, with that, we could see that the balloon was off to the west from the lookout and well hidden by trees."
The balloon was visible from a point to the east of the lookout. But Hesselbach noted that, "In the summer, you would be unable to see it due to leaves. If you were not looking for it, you would not see it."
"The conservation commission expresses no opinion on other issues about the cell tower raised by the neighbors," Hesselbach wrote. "Our only concern was to make sure the tower does not interfere with the lookout."
Newfane Selectboard has not yet taken a position on the AT&T plan. Chairman Jon Mack has said he expects the board to vote on the matter following a review of the AT&T application by an independent consultant.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.