Crawford residents sue town over cell tower
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen such a direct refusal to apply the law of the town,” said attorney Andrew Campanelli.
Campanelli has filed an Article 78 proceeding against the Town of Crawford Planning Board for their recent approval of a cell tower on Route 17K.
The site, commonly referred to as the “Claybar site” has faced strong opposition from the beginning, but after more than a year of public hearings, studies and investigations of alternative sites, the original location was approved by the board.
Donna Tobin, one of the residents bringing the action, stated that they decided to go ahead with the lawsuit because they felt as though the town only considered the cell company’s side of the issue and paid very little attention to the issues their residents brought up such as the impact on aesthetics and property values.
“They seemed set on approving the site on Mr. Congelossi’s property from the beginning and continued to try and prove to us why that site was best instead of really trying to make one of the alternate sites work,” said Tobin.
“Why [they approved it], I can’t fathom,” said Campanelli. “I’ve never seen a board do this in 20 years. It’s as though they were predisposed to grant the application, irrespective of the facts—to the extent that it’s disgraceful.”
Campanelli explained that an Article 78 is the mechanism for an aggrieved person to challenge a municipality’s decision. In this case, he feels the move was necessary as the Planning Board’s decision was “absurd.”
Setbacks for cell towers, according to Campanelli, are for safety reasons, establishing “fall zones” for towers if they often catch fire, collapse, and things such as ice can be blown off to crash below.
The minimum setback is for the height of the tower, and that entire area must be leased by the applicant, per Crawford’s code. Campanelli asserts that the applicant is only leasing a 50 by 50 foot space, which makes it “legally and factually impossible to comply with 150 foot setback on all sides” and noted that the project was never granted a setback variance.
In addition to the legal issues raised by Campanelli, the residents have often expressed concern during the process that the tower will be a blemish on an otherwise beautiful scenic area.
“It will create a horrendous eyesore for our local community,” said Tobin, pointing out that they live in a wooded cul-de-sac with swimming pools, decks and patios and not a single telephone pole—all of their wires are underground.
The conventional style tower approved by the Planning Board will have a low intensity light at the top and an array of antennas. The option to install a stealth tree or concealment pole was abandoned after the board determined that it would restrict the number of carriers that could co-locate (possibly resulting in the need for another tower in the future) and would require an increase in height.
“To place a 150-foot cell tower behind our homes will totally destroy the neighborhood’s rural character and natural aesthetics,” Tobin said, adding that many see cell towers and think “cancer-causing structure” which will negatively impact the surrounding home values.
According to Tobin, the best outcome would be a court decision repealing the Planning Board’s approvals and a new site settled upon for the tower that does not abut residential properties. She suggested that AT&T collocate on the Montgomery firehouse tower and then pursue a smaller, less intrusive tower on one of the proposed alternative sites at the Highland Farm or Davis property to remedy any service gap.
Calls to the town for comment were not returned by Tuesday afternoon. There’s a court appearance on Aug. 10.
By Rachel Coleman