CLARKSBURG — Verizon Wireless is heading back to the drawing board.
The town's planning board unanimously voted Thursday to deny the proposed setbacks for a Verizon Wireless cellular tower planned for River Road, and then voted to determine the company's application incomplete.
"That will give you time to resubmit if you'd like," said Board Chairman David Sherman.
The plan calls for a 125-foot-tall tower to be built on the former North Adams Country Club property, which spans more than 80 acres and is now owned by Todd Driscoll. A 50-foot by 50-foot pad that would support the structure would be fenced in and secure, according Verizon, which plans to build the tower as Pittsfield Cellular Telephone Company.
The proposed structure raises red flags under a new bylaw addressing communications structures passed at the annual town meeting this year, leaving the planning board to decide whether or not to allow variances.
"The board does recognize the importance of cell towers and the ability to provide coverage," Sherman said. "It's a public service, everybody has cell phones...it's just finding the right spot."
The regulations call for a setback of at 150 percent of the tower's height from the property line, but the proposed tower from Verizon would stand about 35 feet from the closest neighbor's land. At 125 feet, the tower would also exceed height restrictions set forth under the guidelines.
Verizon — represented at Thursday's meeting by two attorneys — noted that under the town's new bylaws, the height of the structure is allowed to exceed limitations if the applicant is justified in doing so.
After hearing a long list of concerns raised by abutter Bryan Tanner — and a willingness from Driscoll to reevaluate the positioning of the tower on his property — the planning board voted against the proposed 35-foot setback.
While Tanner acknowledged "it was good to hear that [Driscoll] was willing to make some concessions," he said he was "very much opposed to the entire plan to begin with." Tanner contended the tower will have a negative impact on nearby property values and questioned the potential noise of an on-site generator, among other concerns.
Given its close setback, Driscoll also wondered if he would be held responsible if a tree on his property fell onto the tower, or vice versa.
Driscoll said setting the tower back further into his property would not impact his plans for the golf course.
"I didn't do the tests obviously, but there's no reason you can't pull that tower in 200 feet if you want...you can pull that in as far as you wanted and you still couldn't see it from the road," Driscoll said. "If that's a major hurdle, you could put it anywhere you want on the property."
Attorney Ellen Freyman, representing Verizon, noted that the proposed tower's proximity to trees would help obscure it, and said in the past Verizon has received variances for setbacks.
"When we designed this originally, it was under the previous bylaw," Freyman said. "When the new bylaw was passed we considered the new setback, but for the reasons we explained it was certainly more advantageous to keep it where it was and ask for a variance given the different impacts of the tower."
Also in question on Thursday was the need for additional cellular coverage that would be provided by the proposed tower. The planning board initially reviewed the proposal last week and requested additional maps and coverage information, but its member were not satisfied by what Verizon representatives showed on Thursday.
"[The application is] incomplete. This map is no good," Sherman said.
Part of the town's new bylaw suggests that new communications towers be avoided when within 5 miles of another tower—in this case, the tower on Florida Mountain.
Town Administrator Carl McKinney questioned whether or not the current coverage maps dated back to before the tower atop Florida Mountain collapsed in 2014.
"After it got knocked down and whatever they put up there is not anywhere near what it was," McKinney said.
Freyman told the crowded room in Town Hall that the full presentation given by Verizon's technical employees would be more informative.
Now known as the Boulder Creek Golf Club, the property was approved by the planning board last year for renovations to its clubhouse and the installation of a 1.25 megawatt solar array that is underway.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376