Using their own money, Rockland Planning Board members retain attorney in cell tower legal dispute

Tue, 01/26/2021 - 8:45pm

ROCKLAND – A defense attorney specializing in cell tower litigation has been put on retainer for three members of the Rockland Planning Board caught up in a legal battle with Bay Communications, LLC.

Days after the Planning Board requested, in their one executive session with the Rockland City Council, that Rockland provide them with an independent attorney from the one used by the City in this matter, the lack of City response led Planning Board members to take matters into their own hands.

Using a small amount of personal money, along with private funds from sympathizers, for the $5,500 retainer, three of the four board members officially voted to retain Andrew Campanelli, of Long Island, New York, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, during a Planning Board meeting.

The fourth member, Kirk Folk, abstained due to joining the board three weeks after the Planning Board's denial of a cell tower application, and is not a defendant. 

Though not a member of the Maine Bar, Campanelli has Federal Court standing, and is approved to assist the Planning Board with this case since the cell tower falls under the Federal Communications Act.

“I have never been so disappointed in the City – in not supporting us, financially or otherwise,” in trying to find legal protection for the Planning Board, said Chair Eric Laustsen, in reference to his 36 years on the board. “We’ve always worked with businesses and developers to be in keeping with the ordinance. Sometimes it takes time, but we’ve always been willing to work issues out.”

In this case, the Planning Board hasn’t had time, according to Laustsen, and not just because of the court-ordered February 4 deadline to approve Findings and Facts that precedes the construction of an AT&T monopole at 162 Camden Street.

On February 18, 2020, the Planning Board denied Bay Communication’s site application based on a long list of reasons.

On March 17, 2020, Bay Communications filed a complaint in U.S. District Court.

According to Laustsen, the Planning Board heard nothing further until November 17, 2020 when its members first read about the settlement in the news and then when they were threatened with contempt of court if they didn’t not sign the new Facts, Findings, and Waivers that were agreed upon without their knowledge.

As defendants named in the lawsuit, the board was never served, according to board member Carol Maines, herself a former attorney.

When the Board asked the City for documentation of the suit, no paperwork appeared, prompting Maines to drive to Bangor to retrieve the reports herself.

Three months later, the board continues to maintain that the new settlement contains falsities, and that some of the settlement-required waivers are beyond their purview.

“The Planning Board do not have the authority to grant variances, waivers, or permits,” said Laustsen. “The Zoning Board of Appeals is the appropriate Board to grant variances….so, we refuse also to sign the second document.”

During the emergency session, the board listed several of the reasons for denying the application. One of those reasons had to do with a proposed senior living facility located off of Old County Road, just behind the proposed monopole. Breakwater Commons would have beautiful harbor and breakwater views, according to Board member Ken Chipman. The proposed Commons is approximately 60 feet in elevation, he said. Still, the 120-ft monopole would block those views.

Last year, the board approved a new tower and two expansions of existing towers in Rockland.

“They cannot claim that we don’t allow towers in Rockland,” said Laustsen.

Without an attorney, however, the claims continue.

“This has been a huge disappointment,” he said.


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