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For a wireless zoning bylaw, fierce debate continues ahead of a town meeting vote. At stake: Widespread signal gaps in parts of Lenox.

LENOX TOWN HALL

Lenox residents will get the chance to sound off on a proposed wireless communications facilities bylaw at a meeting on Nov. 29.

LENOX — It took well over 150 hours of public meetings over at least 18 months, but in a two-day period this week, a highly debated wireless communications facilities bylaw made it from committee to a special town meeting ballot scheduled for Dec. 8.

The proposal’s movement to the town meeting started with a brisk 15-minute virtual meeting Monday night, as the Planning Board voted 4-0 to deliver the town’s extensively workshopped bylaw proposal to the Select Board.

The Select Board then voted unanimously on Tuesday to include the plan for debate and a decision at the upcoming special town meeting on Dec. 8. It will be held at 7 p.m. in the Duffin Theatre at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School. A two-thirds supermajority is needed to approve the proposal.

A legally required public hearing on Nov. 29 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall and via Zoom will give supporters and opponents a sounding board.

The goal of the zoning bylaw is to help plug major cell signal gaps in sections of Lenox, especially downtown, the southeast neighborhoods and the village of Lenox Dale.

Supporters assert emergency calls are problematic for first responders and the public in low-signal areas. Opponents claim health hazard risks exist if cell towers are placed too close to homes.

The bylaw emphasizes that before a new tower is proposed in a residential district, the applicant must also demonstrate that it is not feasible or effective to locate the structure in other zones or on municipal facilities.

New free-standing towers require a minimum setback distance of 250 feet to the nearest residential property line. But the zoning board by a supermajority vote could reduce the setback to 1 1/2 times the height of the tower as long as the impact on surroundings is not substantially increased and there is no viable location without the reduction.

In commercial and industrial zones, the minimum setback must equal the height of the new tower. But the ZBA may allow a shorter setback if the shorter setback provides adequate safety and aesthetics.

In a nutshell, here’s a summary of the bylaw’s other major goals applying to wireless communications towers, antennas, ground equipment and related accessory structures, as reviewed by Town Counsel Joel Bard of KP Law:

• Accommodate the growing need and demand for wireless communications services.

• Establish procedures to ensure that applications for facilities are reviewed to comply with federal, state, and local regulations followed by a decision within a reasonable period of time as required by state and federal regulations.

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• Minimize the impacts of facilities on surrounding land uses by establishing standards for location and compatibility.

• Encourage the placement of facilities on existing structures to minimize new visual, aesthetic and public safety impacts, or effects upon the natural environment and wildlife.

• Protect the character of the town while meeting the needs of its citizens to enjoy the benefits of wireless communications services.

Special permits from the town’s zoning board would be needed for a new tower in the one-acre and three-acre residential zones, as well as commercial and industrial districts.

In all zones, ZBA approval would be required to install a facility on an existing structure, such as an existing tower, building, or other structure such as a water or fire tower or pole. Zoning board approval would be needed for substantial changes to existing facilities.

Applications for special permits have to demonstrate the need for a proposed facility, based on existing and proposed signal coverage, and show that alternative solutions are unavailable to reduce the impact on the community.

New wireless facilities cannot have “an undue adverse impact on historic resources, scenic views, residential property values, or natural or man-made resources,” the proposed bylaw states.

Ideally, it adds, a new facility shall be located on an existing structure, such as a tower, to avoid increasing its impact on the community.

Preferred locations for any new towers are along commercial and industrial corridors or in suitable municipal locations or other sites where the settings, other structures, and intensity of uses already in place are more compatible with the industrial nature of wireless facilities.

Remote locations on largely undeveloped areas may be acceptable if the result is a new tower that is generally not visible to the public.

As a first preference, the bylaw advocates concealed co-location on an existing structure or attachment to an existing tower without a substantial change. Second, third and fourth preferences involve camouflaged location on existing facilities, substantial change to an existing base station or tower or a new camouflaged or concealed tower.

The least-preferred solution is a new unconcealed, non-camouflaged tower.

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

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