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Residents eager for cell phone service want process to speed up

COPAKE — Not only are many people in favor of the new proposed cell tower in West Copake, but they are also in a big hurry to get it built.

That’s what most of those who spoke at July 28 public hearing told the Town Zoning Board of Appeals.

Mariner Tower representative Chris Ciolfi made a second appearance before the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) last Thursday, following a July 21 balloon float requested by the ZBA.

At the July 28 meeting, ZBA Chairman Jeff Nayer opened a public hearing on the cell tower application, which is simultaneously before the Town Planning Board for site plan review.

Mariner Tower II, LLC, and Ezra J. Link, Jr. have applied to the Town Zoning Board of Appeals for both an area variance to construct a 150-foot cell tower, which is higher than the 125 feet allowed by law and a setback variance to locate the tower about 1,200 feet from a residence, closer than the 1,500 setback required by law.

The proposed tower would be located at 3124 County Route 7 on Mr. Link’s property. Mariner would build the tower and lease the land on which it sits from Mr. Link.

In giving a little background on the application, Mr. Ciolfi said the aim in asking for a 150-foot tower is to provide the area with better cell phone service He said emergency services would be given the top spot on the tower.

The informal balloon float was to give the ZBA a visual idea about how visible the tower would be from the original proposed location, as well as, from an alternate location that would put the tower the required 1,500 feet away from the nearest residence.

Balloons were also floated at different heights. Mr. Ciolfi noted that the alternate site drops the ground elevation by 18 feet. He took photos of the balloons from various sites, primarily east of the site on Snyder Pond Road. A formal balloon float date will be set in conjunction with the Planning Board and advertised in the future.

Mr. Nayer read a letter of support for the tower from Copake Fire Chief John DeRocha, who said the primary way people now call for help is by cell phone, which makes the need for the cell tower all the greater.

Lou Leo, a paramedic with Community Rescue Squad in Copake, told the board he needs cell phone service to transmit patients’ EKGs to the hospital and to speak to a physician “voice to voice” about what emergency medications to dispense before the ambulance arrives at the hospital.

After hearing that Verizon is the service provider for the rescue squad, ZBA member Hilarie Thomas said the cell tower will not change the squad’s no-service predicament because only AT&T will use the tower, at least initially. Other providers may lease space on the tower in the future.

Al Biondi complained that the cell tower approval process was too slow and asked whether the board could “forego a couple of things” in order to get it approved.

Chairman Nayer explained why the board cannot circumvent the law in case someone challenges the board’s decision in court. ZBA Attorney Anthony Buono agreed, “The quickest way to do it is to do it right. A shortcut will not work” and the process could “take a few months,” he said.

Barbara Gallicano of Farm Road told the board that when her car broke down in an area where there was no cell service she had to walk to get help.

Carrol Allen and his wife, Suzanne, who are Mr. Link’s next door neighbors, spoke in favor of the tower. Mr. Allen, who said he has 40 years of experience with microwaves as an electrical engineer, said could assuage fears about the risks from the tower’s transmissions. He also said he cannot see the tower from his house.

Mrs. Allen said she wants the cell tower because every time it rains her land line phone doesn’t work. Mr. Allen said the power in the neighborhood goes out every time the wind blows more than 40 mph and if the cell tower is located there the power company will be obliged to restore power quicker.

Peter Reed, whose house is a few hundred feet from the Link property line and is the one located only 1,200 feet from the original proposed tower site, told the board he will bear the primary negative visual impact of the tower which will “compromise that pristine hillside.” He asked the board not to grant the applicants a setback variance.

Bob Roth, a longtime proponent of cell phone service in this underserved part of the county, told the board about his five-year quest to get a cell service provider to come here. He said that if the board makes the process unduly difficult, the company may take a Copake cell tower off its list.

ZBA member Thomas said that she lived in LA for 20 years and even if the cell tower is built “there will be dead zones and you could be living in one… it’s a possibility.”

Later in the meeting, Mr. Ciolfi offered to withdraw his application for the setback variance, move the cell tower to the alternate location and “put the board on the line to give us the okay for 150 or 165 feet in height. “We’re just trying to be a good neighbor, if the 1,500 feet is now becoming a sticking point,” Mr. Ciolfi said.

Mr. Nayer told Mr. Ciolfi he could drop the setback application if he wanted to, and Attorney Buono told him the board would need it in writing before the next meeting.

Mr. Nayer left the public hearing open to resume discussion at the board’s August 25 meeting.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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