NEWFANE -- Having already navigated a sometimes-stormy permitting process for a new telecommunications tower in Newfane, AT&T is coming back for more.
The company has notified town officials that it will seek Vermont Public Service Board permission to build a new, 140-foot tower at 85 Browns Road. The site would provide cellular coverage along Route 30 and in the immediate, surrounding area, the company said.
AT&T is seeking a favorable recommendation from the town. But local officials know from experience that, regardless of their decision, the Public Service Board has the final word.
"This is similar to the previous one. They are not asking for the town to approve it per our regulations," Selectboard Chairman Jon Mack said. "They will be going to the PSB for approval. And they are asking for our recommendation. So we will be looking into that over the next several meetings."
Around this time last year, AT&T disclosed plans for a 139-foot tower off Oak Hill Road in South Newfane. There was vehement opposition from some residents, who worried about impacts on property values.
Town officials also expressed concern that the state's permitting process overrode local laws: The tower plan was not in compliance with either the height or setback requirements in Newfane's 2007 telecommunication-facility ordinance.
AT&T, however, said no other site could provide the same level of coverage in the Dover Road corridor.
The Public Service Board approved the South Newfane project in March.
Even as AT&T continues development of that site, it now is proposing a second Newfane tower in the general vicinity of Dutton Farm Stand.
The Browns Road project is expanded to "expand and improve" AT&T's network "by introducing reliable coverage along Vermont Route 30 and immediately surrounding areas from approximately Williamsville Station through the Village of Newfane and reaching north to the boundary with Brookline," wrote attorney William Dodge, representing the company.
"Route 30 has been recognized by the Vermont Telecommunications Authority as a ‘target corridor' for the general absence of reliable cellular and wireless-broadband Internet service," Dodge added.
The telecommunications authority initially had a lease option with the Browns Road property owners for tower development, Dodge's letter says. AT&T acquired that right from the authority in September and entered into a new lease with the property owners last month.
The proposed tower would interconnect with the pending Oak Hill Road tower and an existing Putney site, the company says. And Dodge's letter says the Browns Road facility would be operational no later than March 31, 2015, "resulting in significant service-quality improvements and benefiting residential and business customers living, working and commuting to and from Newfane as well as tourists who visit the area."
The tower also could help enable use of an enhanced-911 service wherein emergency responders could pinpoint the location of cell calls.
And AT&T says the tower "is being designed to allow for the future co-location of at least four additional carriers."
Many who opposed AT&T's Oak Hill Road plans said they favored cellular-service upgrades in Newfane but opposed the tower's location. It is unclear whether there will be similar objections to the Browns Road proposal.
There is at least one similarity between the two projects: Neither meets height or setback requirements in the town's telecommunications-facility ordinance.
In terms of height, communications towers in Newfane are not supposed to extend more than 20 feet above the tree line. The tree line in the area of the Browns Road site is 80 feet, meaning AT&T's tower is approximately 40 feet too tall to meet this requirement.
Dodge's letter points out that "additional height is permissible under the ordinance where necessary to provide adequate coverage or to allow for co-location of facilities." Both standards are applicable for this project, he maintains.
AT&T also acknowledges that the tower would be 140 feet from the nearest property boundary, which is less than required under the town's setback requirements for such structures.
But Dodge writes that the tower would be designed to "substantially reduce the risk of collapse."
Also, "the tower can be designed to fold into itself, not topple, in the unlikely event of a collapse," the attorney wrote. "AT&T proposes to address the setback requirement by incorporating a ‘break-point' into the tower design, which will force the top half of the tower to fold over into the bottom half, away from the properties to the north and west of the compound."
Dodge added that "the closest residence in the area is situated over 1,000 feet form the proposed tower."
Safety and regulatory issues aside, concerns about aesthetic impacts also have been a big part of recent tower debates in the area.
Dodge says AT&T has attempted to achieve its coverage objectives "while also keeping in mind the need to avoid unreasonable interference with significant public views."
"The facility is not located in the vicinity of any public parks, natural scenic vistas or historic districts," Dodge wrote. "Although the facility is expected to be visible from sections of Route 30, existing terrain, topography and roadside vegetation and buildings are expected to conceal the facility from many vantage points. Newfane Hill will further shield the facility from westerly views."
More information about the proposed tower's aesthetic impacts will be available after a balloon test tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 9. A balloon will be flown 140 feet above the Browns Road site, and a consultant will take pictures from various public areas to determine the structure's likely visibility.
The balloon test is weather-permitting. Updates on the test's schedule will be posted at www.cadsims.com/newfane.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.