Rockland citizens opposed to proposed cell tower fill city hall chamber

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 12:00pm

ROCKLAND — A mother of a child with heart problems. The family who coincidentally put their house on the market just as a monopole tower proposal became public and say they now are unable attract home buyers. The fear of falling steel. The reminders of design plans for a stretch of Route 1 corridor and the landscapes that draw tourists. 

By the end of a 2.5 hour Rockland Planning Board meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 7, to further consider an application for a 120-foot communications tower at 182 Camden Street, the only decision made was when to schedule the next meeting. After determining the next reconvening, representatives of the proposal were also left with one technicality to ponder before Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 5:15 p.m.

From a Code Enforcement evaluation concerning the commercial corridor overlay zone:

The requirements and standards set forth in this commercial corridor overlay zone, which is over that section of Camden Street, shall prevail. Maximum front setback for primary structures is 10 feet. This requirement was intended to develop a cityscape along Route 1.

Rockland Code Chapter 19-304 Commercial Corridor Overlay Zone. The maximum front setback for primary structures is 10 feet. Minimum principle building height is two functional stories. 

“And there are other provisions within the code that are the prevailing code for this lot,” said Rockland Code Enforcement Officer Adam Ackor.

One repeated argument by opponents was that another location should be sought.

In fact, according to Springer and the other consultant at the table, 12 other locations had been considered, and the property owners approached. They said:

The old Bananza steakhouse at 273 Camden Street; owner was not interested.

Home Depot parking lot at 270 Camden Street; company rejected proposal.

Old Walmart parking lot at 265 Camden Street ; has been unable to agree on terms with them in the past.

Further suggestions in the past couple of  weeks that were followed up on: 

Patterson property, in Rockport; owner expressed interest, yet tower is not permitted due to zoning ordinance.

Fuller Chevrolet/GMC parking lot, 179 Camden Street; owner was not interested.

A number of property owners did not respond at all, or the property was unsuitable:

Littlefield Memorial Baptist Church, Waldo Avenue; Pastor was going to ask the Church board

Pizza Hut

Smith property, 107 Camden Street 

Express Lube, 131 Camden Street; site deemed unsuitable based on proximity to the shoreline

Old Tim Horton’s Camden Street 

Goodwill properties, 200 Camden Street; space limitations

Woodlands Assisted Living, 201 Camden Street; space limitations

At the tail end of the meeting, Planning Board Chair, Eric Laustsen reiterated this concern: “Primary and secondary structures – not just buildings, but primary and accessory structures – shall employ variant setbacks, roof requirements, heights, etc. Obviously, you are not going to make a tower until you can fit this building design. But on the other hand, I don’t see how you can build with this requirement on the books.”

In February, the Board will compare a still-pending independent housing appraisal by Bucklin LLC with that of two appraisals by the applicant, Bay Communications. The monopole tower application will also be reviewed in full, despite already being considered complete by the attorney for Bay Communications, yet not complete by the Planning Board prior to the start of the Jan. 7 meeting.

BC’s attorney, Jonathan Springer said the application was considered complete at the previous meeting, though one revision was emailed to Planning Board members a day prior to the Jan. 7 meeting, and one of the appraisals was emailed the day of the meeting.

An estimated 60 - 70 Rockland residents filled seats inside City Hall in opposition to the monopole.

The pole, said Springer, is a necessity for anyone who uses a cell phone, which, he said, is almost everyone.

The tower provider, NEWN, uses a low-power frequency that can only distribute airwaves up to five miles in radius, according to Springer. Therefore, the tower already situated on Benner Hill Road cannot by relied upon for coverage of the busy commercial/residential Camden Street area. And, because communications laws require that towers allow competing carriers (Sprint, Verizon, etc) to use the pole, there will not be a plethora of towers popping up, he said.

The tower, he said, is not being installed to benefit Vinalhaven.

Springer voiced frustration when Planning Board Chair Eric Laustsen, along with those in the room, called for a completion of Springer’s hour spent in presentation mode for the audience’s sake.

The attorney argued that his presentation was far from finished, and that the Planning Board at the last meeting had required him to respond to the 21 concerns voiced by residents at that time. 

“Unfortunately, what I heard from the podium tonight by Mr. Springer – once again arguing that he didn’t have enough time – I didn’t hear the plan being presented,” said resident Will Clayton. “I heard a lobbyist. I heard the owner’s name mentioned once. I heard AT&T. I heard NEWN mentioned dozens of times. I didn’t hear the plan.....Next time, I don’t want to hear a lobbyist. I want to hear what the plan is.”

The tower, according to Springer, will not have lights on top, only small, regular bulbs near the base for the technicians to use. Yet, one resident mentioned that she lives directly under the route taken by LifeFlight medical flights. According to her, the emergency medical helicopter flies close to the tree line. The antennas of the proposed monopole must be above tree-level in order to ideally function.

Some residents cited research into health concerns and an internet video of towers falling down. Many reflected on why they chose Rockland for their homes. Others voiced concern of diminished property value. Still more demanded a moratorium so that ordinances regarding towers could be created and enacted.

One person, who lives in Union, came to the meeting with real-time experience. Sharon Osborn told the Planning Board that she became familiar with Springer and the company he represents, when they brought a tower to Union. She stated belief that the fall-distance of the tower must be at least the height of the tower so that no other structures would get hit if the tower fell. She also said that the Union site’s promise of landscaping is nonexistent, but instead just a mess of weeds.

“But mostly it is that constant, constant reminder as I look out my window, of what I’m getting – coming at me – every single day,” she said. “And I have read extensively on the radiation problem that the previous gentleman talked about. I am now experiencing quite a lot of memory loss after years of experiencing normal. Which may or may not have anything to do with it, but who knows?”

Reach Sarah Thompson at news@penbaypilot.com