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Lenox board makes final tweaks to rules on cell facilities, ahead of Thursday's vote

Aerial view of Lenox Town Hall

With Planning Board updates completed, a new wireless communications bylaw is ready for prime time at Thursday night’s special town meeting. But with a two-thirds supermajority required, what are the chances for approval?

 LENOX — It’s down to the wire for the proposed new zoning bylaw regulating wireless communications facilities in Lenox, with final Planning Board revisions completed Monday night.

In recent weeks, organized opponents have ramped up efforts to defeat the bylaw, which requires a two-thirds supermajority at Thursday’s special town meeting. 

Many residents received a postcard flyer recently detailing objections. Distribution of a separate leaflet targeted to one neighborhood was intercepted by police Friday, since it is against federal law to place material in mailboxes that has not gone through the Postal Service.

“I think the citizens of Lenox should be very proud of the job their Planning Board has done,” Town Manager Christopher Ketchen told The Eagle Tuesday. “They dedicated hundreds of hours to this endeavor. As a resident, I appreciate their work and I support their proposal.”

"Adequate cell coverage is vital to public safety and is very important to our economic development. While this bylaw won't automatically improve wireless coverage overnight, it will at least make it attainable — which is not the case right now,” Ketchen said.

The Select Board voted Wednesday night to endorse the Planning Board’s proposal.

The updates

Here are the Planning Board’s significant updates to its bylaw proposal:

• The board widened the separation of any new installation from school buildings with language stating that “the minimum setback distance to the nearest residential or school property line shall be at least 250 feet.”

A previous bylaw revision listed 1,000 feet of separation from a school building, but since most school properties are sizable, there’s now “a much larger exclusion zone around the largest school properties,” consultant David Maxson explained.

• Town planners reaffirmed a recent update stating that any placement of an antenna on an existing structure or site requires a setback of at least 100 feet from residential property lines.

• Placing any facility on subsidized multi-family structures of 20 units or more is prohibited. That would exclude the 64-unit downtown Curtis apartment complex from antenna installations.

There are no applications for potential facilities on any town-owned property — including Town Hall, the library, the Community Center, the wastewater treatment plant in Lenox Dale and a potential new public safety complex on the town-owned Saw Mill Brook property. Any future application for town-owned property would require specific approval from town meeting voters, Land Use Director and Town Planner Gwen Miller said.

In a message to The Eagle, she stressed that wireless towers are prohibited in the small, densely populated residential zones with lot sizes smaller than 0.7 acres, and in downtown commercial zones.

Pushing back against what he described as misinformation being circulated by opponents, Planning Board Chairman Tom Delasco told The Eagle that “the folks who are opposed don’t quite seem to understand that we have to write a bylaw that must comply with federal law.”

He noted that radio frequency emissions as regulated by the Federal Communications Commission are not within the purview of town planners.

In a detailed posting on Facebook’s Lenox Community Bulletin Board, Delasco took aim at the flyers found in residents mailboxes urging a “no” vote on the bylaw.

“There is no question that this is a technical and complex issue, and I assure you that the Planning Board has given the subject a great deal of thought over the last two years,” he wrote. “There are some in town who will say that this process has been rushed; nothing could be further from the truth.”

Delasco cited federal laws barring state or local governments from regulations that would prohibit personal wireless service, and that “no state or local government may regulate wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions.”

He also pushed back against opposition claims that the proposed bylaw excludes the public from challenging an application from a wireless service provider.

“The Planning Board must present a bylaw that is legal and defensible in court,” Delasco said. “The proposed bylaw forms a delicate balance between the need for additional wireless service coverage and also limits the intensity of this commercial type of use on our mostly residential community.”

Addressing perceived health impacts from wireless communications facilities blamed on outdated FCC regulations from 1996, Delasco noted since the Planning Board has no control over those issues. “Perhaps those folks most concerned about this should turn their attention toward our local Congresspeople to urge them to mandate that the FCC revisit and update the regulations.”

The special town meeting, which also includes two major spending proposals for a public safety complex and a federally required wastewater treatment plant upgrade, is at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Duffin Theater at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School. 

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com.

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