GNH Lumber February 2024

Fixing Ancram dead zone requires changing the law

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ANCRAM–Local reliable cell phone service may move closer to reality if the town’s cell tower regulations were more conducive to building one here.

“We have wind [turbines], solar systems, why not wireless phone service?” Bob Roth asked at the May Town Board meeting. Mr. Roth has spearheaded efforts to get a provider to bring cell phone service here for the last three or so years.

 

Mr. Roth said he and Supervisor Art Bassin and Councilman Jim Miller recently met with AT&T representative Kevin Brennan, who suggested that if the town amended its cell tower law, a cell service provider may be more likely to build a tower here.

“Copake and Taghkanic are on the verge [of getting cell towers], but Ancram–not yet, not until all the planets line up and the cell tower law is amended. It’s up to you,” Mr. Roth said.

Another glitch in the cell tower quest has been the apparent misapprehension by AT&T that the prior town administration required that a tower be built on town land.

Donna Hoyt, a member of the former administration, said no such demand was made by the previous board. “We have been blamed for a lot of things, but this is not our fault,” she said.

Mr. Roth pointed out that early on in the cell tower discussions Jim Jeffries of Northeast Communications, a company that manages cell tower sites, spoke about how the town could make money if a cell tower was built on town land. Mr. Roth suggested that may be where the misunderstanding began.

Councilman John MacArthur, also a member of the prior Town Board, said, “We wanted it on town land if it was feasible.”

Supervisor Bassin said that during the meeting with Mr. Brennan of AT&T, he and Councilman Miller made it clear that the Town Board wants AT&T to put a tower wherever it will provide the best coverage for the whole town.

The Town Hall site, where AT&T was considering putting a tower based on its prior misconception, is in a low-lying area that is undesirable because the company would have had to build a 250-foot tower, which would have been quite expensive.

AT&T is currently looking for a better site on higher terrain, regardless of landowner. Mr. Brennan asked town officials to review and consider revising the local cell tower law.

In a June 1 phone interview, Mr. Bassin said though the AT&T representative did not say whether the company would build a tower in Ancram, but Mr. Brennan didn’t think any cell provider would be able to build one here unless the law is changed.

As the law reads now, a tower applicant must get a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals and go through the Planning Board’s site plan review process. Towers must be located on a minimum of five acres, there may only be one tower per site and the tower must be set back at least two times the height of the tower from all boundaries. A cell tower must be 750 feet from any structure, 100 feet from a wetland or body of water, 500 feet from an historic property or archaeological site and cannot be within a ridgeline where their visual impact is detrimental to the view. No tower can be higher than 199 feet from the ground.

The combination of the law’s requirements and the need for high ground means, “It would be virtually impossible to find a place to put a tower,” Mr. Bassin said. While Mr. Brennan made some suggestions for changes to the law, Mr. Bassin said the two biggest concerns are the size of the parcel needed and the setback requirements. The height requirement is not unreasonable, as the height of a tower located on high ground would likely be significantly lower than the maximum allowed.

The supervisor has contacted the town’s Comprehensive Plan consultant Nan Stolzenburg, Planning Board Attorney John Lyons, and Hugh Clark, chairman of the Zoning Revisions Committee, asking them to take a look at the town’s tower law and develop a list of recommended changes. The recommendations will be shared with the Town Board at its June 17 meeting and, depending on the outcome of the board’s discussion, a revised law could be scheduled for a public hearing as early as the July Town Board meeting.

Mr. Bassin has also asked Ms. Stolzenburg, Mr. Lyons and Mr. Clark to draft law regulating wind turbines in same time frame. Though the Zoning Board of Appeals is currently considering an application for two wind turbines on Carson Road, the town has no laws specifically dealing with the wind devices.

While there may be opposition to changes in the cell tower law, Mr. Bassin said that at the end of the day, the Town Board will weigh the proposed changes and decide whether some trade-offs are advisable to bring the community better cell service.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com.

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