Williamstown cell tower plan has some neighbors worried about landscape, safety

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Neighbors are pushing back against a proposal to put a wireless telecommunications tower in the corner of the now-vacant Taconic Restaurant adjacent to Route 2.

During a meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday, residents raised objections, including the tower's potential impact on the scenic views, and the danger to passersby in the event that strong winds knock it down.

One neighbor, a hotel owner, supported the proposal because there is no cellular signal in the Route 7/2 corridor, which is challenging for his business to attract customers and for people passing through who might need emergency aid, he said.

Verizon Wireless is seeking a special permit and two zoning variances to allow construction of the 100-foot tower in the northwestern end of the parking lot.

It would be enclosed in a compound about 40 by 50 feet, and traffic bollards around the western and southern perimeter would protect the installation from errant vehicles.

Verizon radio frequency design engineer Jay Latorre said that after about 10 years of work, and evaluating 24 alternate sites, the proposed location was selected as the best spot to erect a tower to provide a reliable cellular signal.

"With this location, that substantial gap along Route 7 is eliminated," Latorre said.

The underserved area along Route 7 includes businesses like Coyote Flaco, Mezze Bistro, the 1896 House, the A-Frame Bakery and the Berkshire Hills Country Inn.

One variance would allow the tower to be located 85 feet from the roadway; current zoning would require a setback of 150 feet in this case. The other variance would allow the tower installation within 200 feet of a waterway. The compound would be built about 36 feet from Hemlock Brook.

An environmental scientist working with Verizon, Dean Gustafson, said a balloon floated 100 feet high at the tower site on Wednesday showed that the tower would rise above the adjacent white pine tree tops by 10 to 20 feet and would be visible for about a fifth of a mile, depending on topography and tree coverage. That area includes parts of Cold Spring Road, Bee Hill Road, Old Farm Way and the Taconic Trail.

Visibility, property values and safety were the main concerns for some neighbors.

Neighbor Dusty Griffin spoke for 50 neighbors who signed a letter to the ZBA outlining their objections to the location, which included the potential threat to public safety, the degraded sight lines and its possible effect on property values. He said Verizon has not done its due diligence "on finding alternate sites."

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Richard Sutter, who lives across the street from the site, lamented the tower would be a visual disturbance to such a beautiful surrounding.

"It will affect the scenic beauty of the town and I strongly urge the ZBA to deny these variances," he said. "It's really going to be a blight on the southern entry to town."

Another nearby resident, Pam Weatherby, said she travels that road every day.

"I will see this tower every day, and unfortunately, all cellphone towers are ugly," she said. "And it's kind of a creeping ugliness. I wonder what's going to come next."

Verizon representatives said the gray metal tower could be painted a deep green or brown to blend better into the background.

Neighbors expressed concern that with the tower that close to the road — in an area known for strong, straight-line winds — a collapse could have tragic consequences.

An architect working with Verizon noted that the 100-foot monopole is constructed to withstand sustained winds of up to 100 miles per hour and wind gusts of up to 115 miles per hour for three minutes. He also noted that many of these towers are in use in Florida and Puerto Rico, for example — and none have been blown over by hurricane-force winds.

Ron Smith, owner of the Berkshire Hills Country Inn, said his business is hurt by the lack of cellular signal, and that it is an issue of health and safety of the people passing through the area.

"I lose business because I don't have any cell service," Smith said, "When they fund out there's no cell service, they check out and they don't come back. When they're driving through and their GPS doesn't work, they have to stop and ask directions. And if someone gets stuck out there, they can't get cell phone service. I think we should let Verizon put up their tower as soon as possible."

There was some concern about a propane tank planned for the compound, and the potential for a tree to fall on it and breach its fuel containment. There was also concern about a falling tree possibly damaging the tower.

ZBA member Keith Davis wondered whether a better location for the tower might be on the eastern end of Margaret Lindley Park, in a remote section of the park, which is across the street from the proposed location but set further back from the road, and possibly less visible to neighbors.

The ZBA listened to the Verizon presentation and concerns of the public and tabled the matter until its Jan. 18 meeting. Verizon representatives said they would look into either a canopy over the propane tank or installing the tank underground and consider moving the tower further away from the roadway. They also intend to evaluate Lindley Park as an alternate location before the next meeting.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com.


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