LENOX — Cheers erupted in Lenox Thursday night, as if the Red Sox won the World Series.
But it was opponents of the Planning Board’s proposed wireless telecommunications bylaw, victorious in their effort to defeat the plan.
The high-stakes special town meeting adjourned far earlier than expected. Resident Judy Moss called the question on the bylaw, asking voters to cut off debate after less than 30 minutes of discussion on the hotly contested wireless plan crafted by town planners over nearly two years and over 150 hours of Town Hall meetings.
Residents voted 68 percent in favor of proceeding directly to a vote on the towers bylaw warrant article, more than the two-thirds majority needed to end discussion, after eight residents voiced support and opposition for the plan, designed to clear the way for improvement in the town’s spotty cellphone service, especially affecting Verizon customers.
But the vote on the wireless bylaw itself narrowly missed the needed two-thirds supermajority. Residents voted 251-147 for the bylaw, a 63 percent majority. In order to pass, 266 “yes” votes would have been needed.
Earlier in the meeting, held at the Lenox Middle and High School and shepherded by Town Moderator John McNinch, two major spending projects sailed through with limited debate.
Voters unanimously supported building a $20 million public safety complex housing the town’s police, fire and ambulance services, now located in deteriorated, inadequate quarters in and adjacent to Town Hall.
The complex will be built on town-owned land at the corner of Housatonic Street and the Route 7/20 bypass, opposite Caligari Hardware.
Selectman Edward Lane made a strong case for the facility, supported by comments from Lenox Dale resident Richard DiFazio.
And voters overwhelmingly approved expansion and renovation of the aging wastewater treatment plant on Crystal Street in Lenox Dale. The federally mandated upgrade will cost $45 million. The strong show of support virtually guarantees a U.S. FDA grant of $15 million toward the project.
Despite objections from voter Charles Koscher, who said 45 percent of residents who use septic systems would not directly benefit from the upgrade, townsfolk backed the plan 363-29, far above the needed two-thirds supermajority.
Selectman Neal Maxymillian said that because the environmental upgrade of the plant is a federal requirement, the town could face fines of up to $25,000 a day if it failed to take action.
Views on wireless bylaw
During the abbreviated debate on the wireless bylaw, former Selectman Channing Gibson argued that cell phones are a vital link in today’s world, since fewer people have land lines. Without service, medical emergencies and other vital communications are impossible. He added that social justice issues are at stake.
“An unwillingness to trust existing health and scientific guidelines is not a valid excuse to deny members of our community help for their very real safety concerns,” Gibson said.
Amy Judd said the bylaw lacked necessary details and specific requirements for potential wireless facility applicants.
Sue Merritt, owner of Lenox Fit on Pittsfield Road, where the town’s major cell tower is located, spoke in support of the bylaw. “So far, I’m not glowing and I’m still here to talk about it. A lot of misinformation has been spread through the community.”
But Amelia Gilardi, teenage daughter of bylaw opponent Courtney Gilardi, described how she was “forced out” of her family home in southeast Pittsfield because of illness from a new Verizon Wireless cell tower, the subject of prolonged litigation by aggrieved residents.
She came to Lenox as a “safe haven” and stated that she didn’t vomit, get dizzy or miss school because of headaches, as she did in Pittsfield, but still suffers health impacts. “I lost the last three years of my childhood to this,” she told residents, asking for a “no” vote on the bylaw.