2005-10-13 / News

Proposed CingularWireless cell tower knocked down

By Michaela Kennedy

The Planning Commission voted unanimously not to support construction of a 74.5-foot wooden pole on Tashtassuc Road for Cingular Wireless at its Oct. 5 meeting. With up to 12 antennae mounts, the pole would have replaced an existing 15foot utility.

The board cited preservation of the historic district and a lack of creative options as some of the reasons for denying the proposal.

Joseph Giammarco, an attorney representing Cingular Wireless, gave an overview of the plan and told the commission that the proposed tower was needed to cover a gap in the service on and near Route 138, the John Eldred Parkway.

Giammarco confirmed that Cingular just completed a merger with AT&T and that AT&T had antennae on the town water tower on Howland Avenue. Giammarco noted that Narragansett Electric, not Cingular, would own the pole, and Cingular would lease the right to use the top 10 feet of the pole.

Brian Allen of Tower Resources Management, also representing Cingular, confirmed that the pole would be above the tree line. Allen noted that coverage depended on how high above the tree line the tower was.

“Our objective is to have a twomile radius coverage,” Allen added.

Planning Commissioner Richard Ventrone said that the site itself was 70 feet above sea level, which would make the tower 140 feet above sea level. He went on to say that the water tower where AT&T currently has a 200-foot antenna, almost 60 feet higher than the proposed pole. Allen contended that a higher placement was not necessarily better for reception.

Commissioner Betty Hubbard voiced concern that the Windmill Historic District was protected by the state Historic Preservation Act. Giammarco responded that the company had not yet received a response from the state in regard to the historic area.

Ventrone asked if the north end of the island would still be without full coverage even if a tower were built near Route 138. Ventrone also asked if the company did any research on how long a loss of service would be acceptable.

Any loss of service would be considered unacceptable to the engineers involved, Giammarco said. He admitted that the north end would not be affected by the proposed equipment.

Commissioner Andrew Kallfelz asked if the height of the pole could be shrunk to just above the tree line. Giammarco responded that he “made sure Wireless gave the absolute minimum height.”

Allen suggested painting the tower to make it less conspicuous.

Planning Commission Chairman Gary Girard asked if they explored locating the pole in other places besides an historic district. “It’s difficult because of the watershed district,” Allen said.

He explained that the selection was made because of the existing utility poles. “Better to make an improvement on an existing pole,” he said.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer noted that the site plan was not consistent with the Comprehensive Community Plan. In a memo to the commission, she enclosed a map of the island showing where the site of the communications facility would be located. The site was within the Eldred Ave./John Eldred Parkway scenic sites and landscapes, which includes the Windmill Hill National Historic Register District.

“The comprehensive plan states that the Windmill Historic District is one of the finest rural landscapes of agricultural land in coastal Rhode Island and contains a wealth of archaeological resources.”

Bryer added that when she had an account with Verizon, her “coverage was good” and noticed no dead spots. She questioned why Verizon could do it “without a pole.” Girard suggested that Cingular “might consider going the same route as Verizon.”

Ventrone pointed out that the coverage missing was about a minute.

Ventrone then made a motion not to recommend approval to the Zoning Board of Review because it was “located in or near the historic preservation area.”

Girard said his biggest concern was the location. He also cited the lack of other options offered by the applicant.

The board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

Commissioner Victor Calabretta had recused himself from the discussion and voting.

Continuing with old business, the commission discussed the minimum impact standards for the high groundwater table overlay district.

Ventrone said he read in the Comprehensive Community Plan that if a lot has a water table of a foot and a half, it should be considered unbuildable. “Yet we consider building on lots with 10-inch water tables. Why bother having a commission?” he asked rhetorically.

Kallfelz suggested considering a sliding scale for restrictions since every lot was different. “I think you’d be on very shaky ground to say a lot is unbuildable,” he said.

Commissioner Jean Brown said that the state Department of Environmental Management determined the safety of an individual septic disposal system for development on a lot. “This is a very strict ordinance, maybe the strictest in the state. When an applicant has spent thousands of dollars, we’ve sort of wasted their money,” she said.

Ventrone pointed out that the ordinance helped to protect the groundwater from becoming polluted. “If you continue to build up nitrogen levels, that effluent will get into the aquifer pretty fast,” he warned.

Calabretta said that he did not feel that everyone had a right to build if a lot was not suitable. “Beneficial use is not the same as the right to build a house,” he pointed out.

Calabretta also said that whether an applicant had three children was not the issue. “Putting a utility pole on the property could be of beneficial use,” he added.

Girard said the commission had come a long way in understanding how to apply the ordinance. He told the board they would continue to discuss interpretation of the ordinance at a later date.

In other business, Bryer reported that the town had real estate closings on three properties on Cedar Lane purchased from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.

She also reported that she had a meeting with the state Department of Transportation. Bryer said that the DOT was moving ahead with research and development for trailways around the state.

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