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ZBA to review cell tower application; some residents still voice concerns

REPORTER FILE PHOTO The Manhanset Firehouse is likely to be the site of a second Shelter Island cell phone tower.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO The Manhanset Firehouse is likely to be the site of a second Shelter Island cell phone tower.

Three years after Shelter Island Fire Commissioners began discussions about locating a new cell tower at the Manhanset Firehouse on Cobbetts Lane, the application will be considered by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

A hearing at Town Hall on Wednesday, June 28 at 7:30 p.m. will lay out plans by representative of Deer Park’s Elite Towers for installation of a 120-foot tower at the site.

Town code requires all cell towers to have a special permit. In addition, the tower proposed needs a variance, since equipment would be approximately 26 feet from the rear yard lot line instead of the required 30-foot setback.

Commissioners were originally approached about putting up a tower in response to complaints by cellphone users in Hay Beach and Ram Island of calls being dropped.

But it wasn’t just cellphone problems, the fire commissioners realized. Firefighters were having difficulty communicating with one another when they responded to calls and if they needed assistance from neighboring departments, they couldn’t count on being able to reach dispatchers.

The arrangement with Elite that includes a provision to enable the fire department to have its own antenna placed on a new tower without cost. Elite also has offered an initial payment of $100,000 to the fire district along with a 50-50 split of fees paid by cellphone companies to place their antennas on the tower.

Elite’s managing partner, Justin Saper, estimated that revenue at between $90,000 and $100,000 per year. The added revenue would assist the commissioners in purchasing new radio equipment as the department transitions from low to high band service, a requirement of the Federal Communications Commission.

From the time word of a possible tower on Cobbetts Lane reached area residents, there were several questioning the tower placement and encouraging the town to consider other options:

• Could raising the existing tower at the Recycling Center provide better communications?

• Is there another site outside a residential area where a new tower could be placed?
• Could small transmitter boxes on existing poles be sufficient to boost power?

In addition to concerns about aesthetics, were questions about safety.

Some residents have raised safety concerns , especially emissions from the antennae and the possibility of the tower falling in a heavy wind. The Federal Communications Commission has long banned consideration of emissions issues, maintaining they pose no problems.

As for a tower falling, Mr. Saper said the tower would be built to collapse into itself rather than falling over onto the road or any nearby property.

What concerned residents achieved was an appointment by the Town Board of an independent consultant who could weigh in on the plan and render an opinion on the application.

At the June 28 hearing, Elite’s case for the tower will be presented and anyone wishing to speak in favor or against the application will be heard.

The ZBA can either close the hearing, accepting written comments prior to a July 19 work session, or leave it open if members want more information submitted for the record.

Closing the hearing could bring about a decision as soon as July 26.