WILLIAMSTOWN — The Zoning Board of Appeals, after four months of study, unanimously has approved a proposal to locate a cellular tower on land in South Williamstown but is requiring that the applicant lower the maximum height from 165 feet to 153 feet in an attempt to reduce its visibility and disruption of the view shed.
In doing so Thursday, the board required that the equipment be treated to eliminate any reflectivity to reduce its visibility even more.
Christopher Ciolfi, principal of tower location consultant Evolution Site Services, which is applying to build the tower, is working with AT&T, which would locate its antennae array at the top of the tower. Other companies likely to co-locate antennae arrays on the tower would be Verizon and T-Mobile.
The original proposal sought a 165-foot-high lattice tower to serve five potential providers on the 36.5-acre Sweet Brook Farm co-owned by Peter Phelps on Oblong Road. On Tuesday, Ciolfi sent a letter to the board, offering to reduce the height to 153 feet, noting that instead of five possible antennae arrays, the shorter height would only allow four antennae on the tower.
There have been three unsuccessful attempts to locate a tower in South Williamstown during the past decade.
The tower is an effort to fill a significant gap in AT&T’s wireless coverage in the southwestern section of Williamstown along Route 7 and other surface roads, Ciolfi noted.
Because of the trees and the topography, views of the tower would be more limited than in other previously proposed locations. Ciolfi noted that the tower will only be visible to people on about 1,800 feet of Woodcock and Oblong roads.
Access to the tower would be through the farm’s primary driveway, which leads to an old farm road that would be widened and enhanced with a gravel surface leading to the tower site 2,500 feet away through the farm property. The tower would stand within a fenced-in compound area with underground utilities, support equipment and an 8-foot, barbed-wire-topped fence.
Evolution Site Services was seeking two telecommunications facility special permits, one for the tower, one for the facility, and a variance to allow the tower to stand 6 feet less than required from the roadway.
The bylaw requires the tower to stand at least the tower’s height, plus 50 feet, from property boundaries, or 203 feet, so, in case of catastrophic failure and the tower falls, it would remain on the property.
The variance is seeking to reduce that distance by 6 feet, meaning that if the tower fell, it still would remain on the property and pose no threat to passersby. With the variance, the tower will be 192 feet from the boundary.
Board members noticed that the biggest concern expressed by residents was for the view shed in a number of correspondences, and spent significant effort to find a way to make the tower shorter and still provide the needed service improvements for the area.
They also noted several residents who complained about the lack of cellphone service in the area, leading to issues with emergency services and commercial services to those residents.
Nearby resident Elaine Neely told the board that when she had a life-threatening accident in her barn a while ago, she was trapped there without cellphone service until someone could find her. Then, her rescuers had to go all the way to the house to call for help.
“Farm work is dangerous,” she said. “And I don’t think it’s nice for some folks to threaten the health and welfare of their neighbors just for a view.”
“For us, this is a balancing act between obtrusiveness and functionality,” said board Chairman Andrew Hoar. “Now, we have to determine what that balance is.”
Board members tried to get Ciolfi to explain why the tower couldn’t be shorter, and his answer was that the lower you go, there will be less signal coverage, eventually making the tower less effective.
Further tests showed that, at 153 feet, signal coverage would be almost as good as at 165 feet, but would cover a slightly smaller area. Still, he said AT&T engineers agreed that 153 feet was acceptable.
Ciolfi next will appear before the Conservation Commission, to be sure that there will be no wetland issues with the project. If that goes well, he said, construction could start in late summer or fall.
In other business, the board unanimously approved a special permit for Overland, an outdoor recreation services provider, to host summer camping on the grounds of Mount Greylock Regional School, as it has in the past.
The board also unanimously approved a special permit to allow Silver Therapeutics, a retail cannabis shop in the Colonial Village shopping center, to expand into an adjacent retail space.