Pittsfield cell tower

Workers put the finishing touches on a cell tower last July in the vicinity of Alma Drive near Holmes Road in Pittsfield.

PITTSFIELD — As they appeal a court decision that went against them, opponents of a new 115-foot monopole in south Pittsfield hope to persuade officials to keep future cell towers farther from homes, anywhere in the city.

The city’s Community Development Board will hear public comment on that question early next month, taking up a petition that calls for future cell towers to be located at least 1,600 feet from residences. A pitch for that change, backed unanimously by the City Council in September, would also compel the city to notify people who live up to 1,600 feet from any proposed tower.

And notice would be provided by certified mail, not regular mail, according to the petition approved by the council.

Meantime, plaintiffs who lost in court this summer will fight on.

They hired a Boston attorney, Patricia A. DeJuneas, to appeal a judge’s Aug. 13 ruling in Berkshire Superior Court. That decision upheld the legality of the special permit awarded in 2017 for the tower that went up this summer at the end of Alma Street, to a neighborhood’s horror.

DeJuneas has filed initial notice of the appeal. Once she has a transcript of an Aug. 11 hearing in hand, she said she plans to ask the Pittsfield court to transfer the case to the Appeals Court.

In his August ruling, Judge Douglas J. Wilkins sided with the lawsuit’s defendants — Pittfield’s Zoning Board of Appeals and Verizon Wireless. Wilkins said neighbors failed to appeal the ZBA’s approval of the tower within 90 days.

But at the same time, he noted that the 12 plaintiffs were correct in faulting the city’s efforts to provide written notice to abutters. The city says it sent those notices.

Plaintiffs provided affidavits saying they did not get required mailings about a project at the back end of an 877 South St. parcel — near their homes.

Courtney Gilardi, an Alma Street resident who rallied tower opposition, said plaintiffs were caught off-guard when construction trucks rolled this spring.

“The neighbors feel like they were not part of these vital conversations — which they never were back in 2017,” she said. “We’re hoping that a new [court] will give us the opportunity for a fair hearing.”

Nov. 5 hearingThe hearing before the Community Development Board would not affect the new tower above Alma Street. But neighbors who joined to contest that tower have broadened their activism.

Gilardi says people across the city sympathized with the neighborhood’s plight. They helped to push a legal fund campaign halfway to its $40,000 goal.

“We didn’t want this to happen with other people,” Gilardi said. “We’re seeing other people be blindsided by projects.”

Support our journalism. Subscribe today. →

City Councilor Christopher J. Connell will help present the petition to the board when it meets a 6 p.m. Nov. 5. “The whole City Council is acting as the petitioner,” he said.

Connell said some people in Ward 4 who live near the new tower complain of migraines since the tower went live. Keeping such structures at least 1,600 feet from homes just makes sense, he said. “That is a much safer distance.”

According to an email City Planner C.J. Hoss sent to Gilardi, councilors will be able to recognize other people who wish to speak to the question, including residents and outside experts. The session is expected to include presentations about perceived health risks associated with electromagnetic radiation produced by cell towers.

Opponents of the proposed change will also be able to speak. Hoss could not be reached Friday for comment on what steps follow a hearing before the Community Development Board.

Connell said he believes any zoning revision would come back to the City Council.

“It’s going to take a little while. Unfortunately, it’s not going to help the residents of Shacktown,” he said, using the neighborhood’s nickname. “That whole thing was a debacle.”

In addition to the matter of where towers can be placed, the City Council last month voted to support a call that the ZBA hold a new hearing on the South Street/Alma Street tower’s special permit — the lawsuit’s main objective.

Gilardi said the second petition already found its way to the ZBA. At a recent meeting, the city’s legal counsel reviewed Judge Wilkins’ decision for board members, noting that the ruling supported the legitimacy of the tower’s special permit.

Program setSeparately, the question of human health and cell towers will form the centerpiece of a Zoom program 6:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 19 sponsored by the Tri-Town Health Department. The department handles public health issues in Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge.

The program, “Safe Cell Tower Siting: What You Need to Know,” will include remarks by Cecelia Doucette of Massachusetts for Safe Technology and Jonathan Mirin of Hilltown Health.

In the last half hour, panelists will take questions.

Gilardi said she believes the public needs to know more about the health effects of cell towers.

“You can be pro-technology and you can be pro-human,” she said. “We’re all learning.”

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com or 413-588-8341.

Investigations editor

Larry Parnass, investigations editor, joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant and CommonWealth Magazine.