WED: Much about Armonk Road cell tower—both law and community character—is up in the air

The ZBA continues its discussion on Homeland cell tower Wed. May 28 @ Town Hall

A rendering of the tower by Homeland-Verizon showing three of six possible arrays of antennae
Saturday, May 24, 2014 [Originally published on Tuesday, April 22, 2014]
by Christine Yeres

When Planning Board members speculated during last week’s as to why Homeland Towers and its client, Verizon, were not interested in pursuing alternatives to the 150-foot cell tower Homeland is proposing for Armonk Road, an attorney for residents of Whippoorwill Lake Road was ready with an answer: “Because Homeland Towers doesn’t make money doing that.  Homeland makes money building towers like this.”

Tuesday’s public hearing began with Planning Board members discussing which color—gray or brown— was less obtrusive for Homeland’s 150-foot tower for six wireless providers, with Verizon as its chief backer.  The proposed location is the 22-acre property of Alfredo’s Landscaping on Armonk Road. 

But when Andrew Campanelli, an attorney hired by residents opposing the tower, took issue with Homeland’s assertions—Why 150 feet high? Why space for six carriers?—Board members were in for a tutorial.  His purpose, he said, was to show Board members that the application should be denied, and how to do so without “running afoul” of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Over the months, the Planning Board has suggested to Homeland a shorter tower or ‘distributed antenna systems’—small boxes on utility poles with antennae mounted on existing phone poles—as less obtrusive solutions for the Armonk Road corridor, but Homeland’s attorneys have insisted that Verizon needs the 150 feet. 

And would 150 feet be the end of it?

“People are upset,” Planning Board member Tom Curley told Homeland’s attorney, Robert Gaudioso.  “They want to know ‘Is this as bad as it’s going to get, or could it get worse?’” Gaudioso was unable to say Homeland would not come back one day for another 20 feet.

And they won’t have to ask, claimed Campanelli.  Once a 150-foot tower is built, he told Planning Board members.  According to federal law, as long as a tower remains under 200 feet in height, the carrier is exempted from seeking approval for an additional 20 feet.

Campanelli told Planning Board members that “adverse aesthetic impact” of a “a 15-story commercial structure in a largely residential area” was “a perfectly valid basis on which to deny the application,” noting that municipalities are increasingly opting for shorter towers, even it that means more of them.  The renderings Homeland had shown the Board, he said, were “nothing like what the tower is going to look like.”  And he produced a letter to his clients from two New Castle real estate agents claiming that with the proposed cell tower the value of their Whippoorwill Lake Road house could decline in value by as much as 25 percent.

According to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, said Campanelli, local boards cannot prohibit the provision of wireless services.  However, Homeland has to establish two things: First, that its carrier-client suffers from a significant gap in coverage.  “Not a few dropped calls,” he said, “but a significant gap.”  Second, if that’s proved, “then the applicant must establish that the proposed installation is the least intrusive method of remedying that gap.”

“That might mean,” Campanelli explained to PB members, “the minimum height necessary to remedy that gap.  Your town code asks you to determine what that is.”

“You [PB members] are the finders of fact,” he said. “So long as you take a reasonable approach, you have the authority to decide what to consider a ‘significant gap.’”

“So let’s see,” said Curley, “we need to know: one, whether there’s a significant gap, and two, what minimum height is necessary to remedy that gap.” 

Shorter towers, but more of them?

Curley noted that with six carriers’ antennae ten feet apart on the pole, if Verizon is at the top, then the sixth carrier would be sit the 90-foot mark—therefore 90 feet works for whatever carrier gets that spot on the tower.  “The 150 feet allows Homeland to have enough vertical real estate to add more carriers,” said Curley.  “But if the tower is only 90 feet tall, then no other carriers can be put on it.  Do we want that?”

“Someone has made a determination,” observed Campanelli, “that some wireless carrier can provide adequate service in this area at 90 feet. What that says is that they don’t need 150 feet.  Many jurisdictions are saying ‘No.  You’re getting 90 feet.’”

Research on the town’s part

“We had a consultant look at everything, didn’t we?” Brownell asked Town Planner Sabrina Charney.

“No, we had a visual consultant,” said Charney.  [See the consultant’s report HERE.]

“That consultant confirmed the applicant’s procedures and methodology [in conducting the balloon test],” said Planning Board Chairman Robert Kirkwood. “It didn’t go into the substance.”

“There was only computer modeling done,” noted Campanelli. “No testing.  And according to Verizon’s online maps, it claimed it had 100% coverage in the area.”  He asserted that Verizon had the means to calculate exactly how many dropped calls they have along the 128 corridor, implying that Homeland’s failure to produce such research might mean that the numbers don’t show a “significant gap.”

“Why would Verizon want to locate on a tower where it has no gap in coverage?” asked Planning Board member Sheila Crespi.

Homeland as a “vertical real estate developer”

“First of all,” said Campanelli, “it’s not Verizon building the tower.  It’s Homeland Towers, a site developer.  They go and find as many spaces for towers as they can and they build them as tall as they can. If they collect $3,000 a month from each of six carriers, that’s $18,000 a month.”

“I think what you’re saying,” Curley summarized, “is that Verizon really doesn’t need this right now, but may want it for more capacity in the future.”

“They may want if for capacity now,” said Campanelli. “But that has more to do with data download than cell and text service.  The circuit courts say they can’t force you to allow data capacity.”

The public weighed in at this point.

Many testified that the 150-foot pole with its bristle of antennae would be an eyesore in the area.  On resident observed that “people shouldn’t be talking on their cell phone while driving anyway.”

While many acknowledged some spottiness in coverage, “It’s not a problem for us,” noted one resident “And so who is it a problem for?”  Several residents had organized to keep logs of their cell phone call experiences at various locations.

“This is even conditional for Verizon,” said the last resident to speak, ”— ‘If you build a tower 150 feet we will come, if you don’t I’m not coming’— So the only thing driving this application is greed—by Homeland, by Alfredo’s.”

[See video below plus a Table of Contents with time markers.]

Homeland attorney responds

“We believe we’ve shown a need,” said Gaudioso. “It’s not just Route 128, it’s not just phone calls a texts.  It includes data and capacity.  The need for wireless service now is for phone service and data use.  For people walking their dogs on the street and for people in their homes.  The service degrades when you go inside a house.  It degrades with the speed of a car.”

Homeland’s assertions were arrived at scientifically, not by anecdotal evidence, said Gaudioso. 

“When you look at the maps for 76 and 80 Whippoorwill Lake Road it shows the balloon 1,000 feet away,” said Gaudioso. “And that’s not a significant impact from those properties.”  The cell tower location was chosen by Homeland, he said, precisely for its distance from residences and for its unobtrusiveness.

Gaudioso asked that the public hearing be closed or rescheduled for the next possible date.

Campanelli spoke once more, telling Planning Baord members that if they were to deny the application—properly, in his opinion, on the basis of “adverse aesthetic impact”—but allow Homeland-Verizon’s evidence of a coverage gap and of least-intrusive-means to go unchallenged, Homeland-Verizon could go to the court, show that its evidence was on the record and that the Planning Board offered no evidence to the contrary, and a federal court would order the tower to go up. 

The Planning Board’s takaway

Crespi suggested that the Plannig Board needed the guidance of its own counsel [Les Steinman, who was absent that evening] on the questions of law raised at the public hearing. “If we’re looking at testing for ‘significant gap in coverage,’ and what that methodology should be,” said Crespi, ”—and if it’s not anecdotal and not computer modeling—what we should be looking at?”

“Yes,” said Curley, “and the matter of law raised here that not only do we have the right to pursue whether there is a gap in coverage, but whether it’s our prudent obligation to do so.  That’s the kind of thing we need to know about.”

Brownell asked Homeland for more three-dimensional analysis, including elevations for Route 128, and urged Homeland to contact several residents whose homes are across from the site who may have been missed during the balloon testing.  Their screening should be assessed, he said.

Zoning Board of Appeals is examining the site’s special permit

On another front, because the Homeland cell tower proposal would need an alteration to the existing special permit for Alfredo’s Landscaping, the Zoning Board of Appeals is examining the special permit by which Alfredo’s operates a nursery in the otherwise two-acre residential zoning along Route 128.  Residents have suggested that the business is currently violating the terms of its existing special permit. Charney told Planning Board members that the matter was still under review by the ZBA, which meets the last Wednesday of every month.

Next public hearing date May 20

The Planning Board set the continuation of the public hearing for Tuesday, May 20.

Related:  NYS’s legal advice to towns on how to deal with cell phone tower applications


Table of Contents for video of the April 16 Public Hearing

0 hours 0 minutes: Homeland attorney responds to questions from PB members.

0 hours 28 minutes: Andrew Campanelli, attorney for residents opposing the cell tower

1 hour 16 minutes: Comments by members of the public

1 hours 51 minutes: Tom Curley “comments on the comments,” invites residents to participate in the town’s Master Plan review.

1 hour 57 minutes: Homeland attorney responds to criticisms by residents’ attorney

2 hours 09 minutes: Public hearing ends

 

Town of New Castle Planning Board Meeting 4/16/14 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.


Comments(18):
We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

Camouflage the pole with tree colored paint

By Seems ok to me on 04/22/2014 at 10:23 am

The gap in coverage is really very limited- if they want to consider it “significant” then just build a tower the minimum height necessary to take care of the short gap in 128 in the valley.  If they need coverage on Whippoorwill over the top of the ridge, look for a site there.  In fact they did and decided it wasn’t high enough to get over the ridge to cover the valley on 128. 

So put something on the water tower if they really need coverage on Whippoorwill, and put a short tower- like 50 or 70 feet on 128. Alfredo has a big site and if they need 2 or 3 50 foot towers, that would be a LOT less intrusive that one 150 foot tower.  And make them the flag pole design. 

By the way- have they looked at co-locating in Armonk? There is a tower there which may be an AT&T tower which provides pretty good service. It may not be a HOmeland Tower, but we really owe nothing to Homeland.  They are certainly not a business we WANT in the community- just one that gets forced on us by the telecommunications act. 

I think its time for all of us in the 128 area to write Verizon and tell them to look at an alternative that doesn’t destroy our homes and our neighborhood.

And for the rest of the town that thinks this is such a great idea because they like to talk on their cell phones while they drive, think how you would like a big cell tower on the edge of the Readers Digest property by 117.

By armonk road resident on 04/22/2014 at 10:43 am

Dear Armonk road resident.  You have a very valid point. I retract some of my prior posts. Make it a little shorter, but it still will be visible, don’t you think?

By Ok, I agree on 04/22/2014 at 12:22 pm

At 50 to 70 feet with a flag pole design- yes you would be able to see it, but the Whippoorwill Lake Road people won’t, and the people who drive by won’t be hit in the face with it, and the poor guy right across the street will be able to see it but it won’t be such an eye sore.  Trees along the road can block some of the view. The equipment at ground level won’t be all that visible- and frankly won’t look any worse than alfredo’s big excavation site development business (which by the way is not what he has a permit for)

By to OK on 04/22/2014 at 1:39 pm

If you drive through Chappaqua (especially in the winter), you can see a huge radio tower on top of the west side of the ridge bordering the SMP.  Where is the uproar over that.  I think the coverage in that area stinks. On 120 and 128, getting a flat tire or in an accident and having to call for help would be a problem from many areas. 

There is certainly a need.  Fix it in a responsible way that works for the area residents.  Verizon is definitely the preferred provider around here.

By Provide coverage on 04/22/2014 at 5:51 pm

I live on 117 near Reader’s Digest and wouldnt mind it if it were a little shorter, but truly, I think I have stopped noticing these things. We have transformers on the phone poles and our entire street is lined with electrical wires that loop from street to house all over the neighborhood. I recently had a family member from another state comment on how ugly they are, but I truly don’t see them anymore.

By cookie on 04/22/2014 at 5:52 pm

I couldn’t agree more with Armonk Road’s comments.  I do wonder why an antenna or a booster can’t be put down by Wampus Lake if that is the problem area.  North Castle has one cell tower which is located in the Corporate Park off 684; all other antennas are roof mounted.  Why destroy our town when there are other options to meet spotty service?  A 150 tower just doesn’t make sense.
I agree, Alfredo is clearly out of compliance with his permit.  How can we trust them with an unmonitored cell tower? Too frightening to even think about.

By New Castle Resident on 04/22/2014 at 9:21 pm

For those of you who mentioned Readers Digest-Now Chappaqua Crossing-there are already
cell phone antennas on top of building 500 and have been for many years.

By HNJ on 04/26/2014 at 3:47 pm

Coverage maps mean nothing. Verizon’s disclaimer states:

“These Coverage Locator maps are not a guarantee of coverage and may contain areas with no service. The maps reflect a depiction of predicted and approximate wireless coverage. The coverage areas shown do not guarantee service availability, and may include locations with limited or no coverage.”

Having lived in the area, I can confirm that the cell coverage in that section of town is horrid.

By AD on 04/29/2014 at 9:14 pm

I drive every day from my office in Armonk to Chappaqua. I drive 120 and I drive 128. I can tell exactly where the call is going to drop and when I will again have service a few miles later.

Like it or not there, are not some calls dropped here, this is a significant gap in coverage. I am a Verizon Wireless customer.

I get that people don’t want these towers in “my backyard” or front yard, but they are a fact of 21st century living. Let’s get this done, move on and deal with the bigger issues this town has.

By daily driver on 05/15/2014 at 6:19 am

The 60 condo units need the cell coverage that the tower will provide

By Legionaire's 'disease'? on 05/16/2014 at 3:15 am

I am not against cell towers, but I am firmly against the irresponsible placement of cell towers in residential areas. If it is so important to place a cell tower in this area - which is debatable - then I respectfully request that the town board, planning board and zoning board work together to:

1. Find a more responsible location. Less visible, and further away from homes.

2. Place the tower on property owned by the town rather than on property of a private land owner who stands to gain $200,000/year in rent for the tower. All we keep hearing is how desperately our town needs money. Well, here’s a golden opportunity to get some!

HERE’S AN IDEA FOR OUR TOWN’S LEADERSHIP TO CONSIDER: There are 96 acres directly across the street from the Alfredo property (Legionairres) being developed soon. It is all being planned and negotiated right now. The developer is only looking to develop approximately 10% of the land footprint. So why doesn’t the town negotiate a deal with the developer to obtain a tiny little piece of the 80+ acres that will not be developed (probably just 1/4 acre or less) to be used for the RESPONSIBLE placement of the cell tower somewhere deep on the property where it will be out of sight and away from neighboring property lines. And since this land is elevated up on a hill, perhaps the tower could also be downgraded to smaller than 150ft as is currently planned. This is a golden opportunity for our town leadership to turn a negative into a positive.

By doing this, the tower will then not affect the character of the area, neighboring homeowners will not have to worry about their health or home values, and the town will receive approximately $200,000 a year in rent from the cell tower company that can be put to good use to the benefit of our town. Everybody wins!

By HERE'S AN IDEA FOR MORE RESPONSIBLE PLACEMENT OF T on 05/17/2014 at 5:52 pm

Unfortunately, Wampus Lake toward Armonk is not expected to be remedied from the 150 foot eyesore proposed by Homeland Towers.  The tower wouldn’t be any more effective than a booster or an antenna on a telephone or flag pole.  This is more about the least intrusive way to address a potential issue.  Another possibility is to move an antenna closer to Wampus or on the Legionarie’s site on a much smaller scale which could potentially address the issue without destroying character, propery values and residents’ quality if life.

By Chappaqua Resident on 05/17/2014 at 8:27 pm

Alfredo’s Landscaping was zoned for agricultural use only.  No structure on the property is to be constructed at a height greater then ten feet. How does the New Castle zoning board not have the power to deny this cell tower on the basis of land use restrictions already conveyed for the property. Homelands proposed tower without doubt is the worst resolution to an already suspect cell reception issue.

Homeowners with cell reception issues should purchase an internet based cell reception booster readily offered by Verizon.  From my experience the booster allows for five bars of reception within any household without jeopardizing the community to an ill sited cell tower.

By Chappy Resident on 05/18/2014 at 2:46 am

Get off the phone while you drive!!!

By Hey Daily Driver- on 05/21/2014 at 4:13 pm

Put an antenna on top of Alfredo’s building- it would cover the valley just fine. There are lots of ways to cover the dead spot in the valley without a 150 foot tower with all the arrays on top.  The alternatives wouldn’t make Homeland Towers all the money they will make from the giant tower, but we don’t have any obligation to maximize their profits.

By alternative on 05/21/2014 at 4:18 pm

The town is signaling very clearly that in the town of New Castle you can just go ahead and do whatever you want to on your land. Don’t worry about zoning or permits. They are not worth the paper they are written on. The inspector will not show up and do his job, and even if he does he will turn a blind eye. Even when violations are obvious, in plain sight and have been repeatedly and consistently violated for many years.

Listen up, residents. Our town leadership is showing us that we are free and clear to go ahead and do whatever we want on our land in the town of New Castle regardless of zoning or permits. They are further demonstrating that you will not only get away with it, but maybe one day even be rewarded when the town carves out yet a second zone from within your already-abused special permit that will provide you with substantial financial gain at the direct expense of nearby residents.

Way to go, New Castle inspector and zoning board. You guys are setting a precedent and telegraphing to the entire town that landowners here can get away with pretty much anything - just like Alfredo Landscaping.

By Alfredo's Phoney Special Permit on 05/29/2014 at 6:27 pm

Got to give credit where credit is due. ZBA finally realized that the inspector previously “missed” all of Alfredo’s extremely obvious violations that everyone has been complaining about and has now reversed their position and issued Alfredo a cease and desist. ZBA, thank you for correcting this error. I am sure that was not easy, but you got it right. Please follow through to ensure compliance, as Alfredo has been abusing this permit now for many, many years. And as we all know - the cell tower application cannot even be considered unless Alfredo first has “clean hands” on the existing permit. So either Alfredo closes down all operations other than the nursery they are approved for - or they will lose it all! Good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to - well, you know.

By Alfredo's Phoney Special Permit - Part II on 06/07/2014 at 9:42 am


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