‘Maybe There Is a Better Area’: Neighbors Voice Concerns about Prospect of Cell Towers at Irwin Park, West School

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Kevin Clark, a resident of Wahackme Road, built his house 20 years ago, past the footpath that loops around the back of a 36-acre parcel known to New Canaanites today as Irwin Park.

When locals debated the acquisition of that parcel as public land, Clark recalled, he sided with those in favor of the purchase “because [former First Selectman] Judy Neville and the Town Council assured us that it would be set aside as beautiful parkland and preserve the integrity of the landscape and preserve the integrity of the quiet residential community that has existed there for 100 years.”

Faced now with the prospect of a 110-foot cell tower near the park’s southwest corner—a draft plan whose development has been overseen by the New Canaan Utilities Commission—Clark said he is concerned that those assurances had been hollow.

“I do not think any of you would want an 11-story tower in your backyard,” Clark told members of the Utilities Commission during their regular meeting, held at Town Hall.

“Where it is sited right now, I will open my shade in the morning when I wake up in my bedroom and I will see the tower. It is just not the way a town like New Canaan should act—in a responsible way for its citizens. It should have a fair solution—unobtrusive, it should blend into the environment, in a commercial area. Maybe there is a better area in Irwin Park that is camouflaged. No resident should have their property values diminished by an ugly tower.”

The comments came as town officials, including those on the commission as well as the Town Council—the elected body that ultimately will decide whether or where to site a cell tower on town-owned land—field concerns from those who live near the proposed location at Irwin Park or a second location at West School.

During the meeting, Utilities Commission Chairman Tom Tesluk offered extensive background for the proposed towers at Irwin and West—a years-long effort that amounts to a draft plan at this point—and cleared up some misinformation regarding the infrastructure itself, for example, that a 75-by-75-foot area “lease area” specified on the map is a flat mat rather than a concrete block.

Though there appears to be no equally effective alternative to the proposed West School location in terms of cellular coverage, Tesluk said, the commission found that a site in on New Canaan Nature Center property would be preferable to Irwin. However, the Nature Center property is deed-restricted and in a way that makes it “highly problematic,” Tesluk said.

West School is “ideally situated” for boosting cell coverage in the western, northwestern and even southern parts of town, to the bottom of Frogtown Road, he said.

“So that is a site that all of our own analysis, the town’s analysis, indicated is very important,” Tesluk said. “So where we are today is, we would expect once we have a visual analysis to widen the conversation—I have had conversations with neighbors around Irwin Park, I’m sure we will continue to do that. I will be presenting together with Cityscape before the Town Council on April 20 to give them more information and an update on what we are doing. And we will continue to search for a solution to the problem. I do think that there is a solution that is out there. I do think that it is unlikely that everyone in the town is going to love the solution, but I do think that a solution is out there.”

The Utilities Commission has labored for several years to find effective, agreeable ways to bring cell coverage to parts of New Canaan that do not have it—for public safety as well as quality-of-life reasons. Under Tesluk’s stewardship, the town has taken a greater degree of direct oversight not only in identifying just where New Canaan lacks coverage but also where and what types of infrastructure would be needed to address gaps in coverage. Certain solutions that may appear ideal in theory, Tesluk said—for example, using only less conspicuous, so-called “stealth” infrastructure throughout parts of northern and western New Canaan—are not feasible, either because they’re cost-prohibitive or because the contours of the land require at least some higher-elevation signaling.

Tesluk described the solution that the commission is pursuing as a combination of towers and less conspicuous technologies, and underscored that a major change in what New Canaan is pursuing now is that it’s mapping town-owned properties only as prospective locations. That will afford New Canaan greater control on the final height of towers when it comes time to apply to the relevant state agency for approval, he said.

The town’s original strategy for improving coverage had been to hire a radio engineering firm, which made New Canaan dependent on carriers and tower developers for recommending sites for towers, Tesluk said. In the end, sites such as the Transfer Station were proposed, which in the end may have served carriers needs’ well—for example, by bringing additional service to a dead zone on the Merritt Parkway—but not necessarily New Canaan’s. Further, leaving the work of planning for infrastructure in the hands of carriers or tower developers meant no one was looking out for the aesthetic concerns of those who actually live here, Tesluk said. The Transfer Station proposal, would have been an industrial eyesore.

Tesluk, who has worked in wireless for 25 years, has said his goal is to improve coverage in a way that minimizes the impact of ugly sites.

Two years ago, the town had a study done and as part of the evaluation process hired a second consultant, Cityscape, which was charged with identifying a candidate through the RFP process to enter into a master lease with the town to get access to some municipal properties for the purposes of siting future cell sites. Cityscape chose a company called Homeland as its candidate, and after identifying a list of municipal parcels where cell sites may be erected, the New Canaan Nature Center or Irwin Park, as well as West School, emerged as top candidates.

There’s a water tower at West School that’s owned by Aquarion, and the water company doesn’t want to get into cell service, Tesluk has said, but the consultants found a point east of the tower that’s at a good elevation for a “macro site” or tower that will cover a wider area.

Janee Hunter during the meeting said her home on Bennington Place is about 110 feet from the property line with West School and that a cell tower there would be “in my back yard.”

“I cannot believe that we are not better than this,” she told the commission. “That in a town such as New Canaan, we really think that cell service is more important than not placing this within 400 feet of a school building and 150 feet of a house.”

Hunter said that neighbors on her street as well as school parents are being made aware of the prospect of a cell tower at West School and that “this is the beginning of a big outcry” among them.

Hunter said that she moved to New Canaan and near West School in particular for its top rating adding: “I will tell you, if I had seen a cell tower 110 feet above West School, I would not have moved to New Canaan.”

She also asked Tesluk and the commission whether a plan to install a two-way radio tower just over the line in Stamford may improve coverage in New Canaan (no) and for information on just when a “balloon test” would be conducted at West School to give residents a chance to get an idea of what a tower there would look like.

Tesluk said he wasn’t sure just when that test would take place, but that it would be publicly noticed.

Town councilman John Engel—one of six in attendance, with Bill Walbert, Sven Englund, Ken Campbell, Kevin Moynihan and Cristina Ross—said he appreciated all the good information that Tesluk was providing and wanted town bodies to coordinate communications better to the wider town.

“I think that this is a very useful forum,” Engel said.

He added: “Probably all of us could do a better job of getting information out town-wide—particularly to neighbors of the affected properties.”

He called for the commission to put together a schedule that informs residents of developments in the early-stage proposal for cell sites looking out one year.

In the meantime, Tesluk said the tower at Smith Ridge and Country Club Roads is approximately 110 feet tall and, though it has only two carriers using the pole now, is an example of how a “stealth monopole” may look.

“I can tell you this much,” Tesluk said. “Whether the design is a tree or a monopole … it is our intention to have it fit in with the surrounding landscape and blend in as much as possible.”

18 thoughts on “‘Maybe There Is a Better Area’: Neighbors Voice Concerns about Prospect of Cell Towers at Irwin Park, West School

  1. Yes, cell phone service is more important than pretty much any argument anyone is making against having cell towers put up. Especially those who’s only beef is that they’re unsightly. But then again, this is New Canaan after all. A quaint, lovely town suddenly filled with selfish, spoiled, entitled people who drive with their brights on at all times. Get over yourselves and accept the fact that the needs of the many are far greater than the needs of your breakfast nook view. It is ridiculous that anyone living beyond the immediate downtown of New Canaan might as well be living in the 1970’s. Let’s join the early 2000’s people.

    • It’s not just a question of “unsightliness”, “entitlement”, or a “breakfast nook view” it has to do with the fact that cell towers emit large amounts of radiation that can harm surrounding residences.

      I also think it is a bit unbecoming to falsely label New Canaan as a “town filled with selfish, spoiled, entitled people”. Also mentioning the “people who drive with their brights on all the time” has nothing to do with this topic.

      • Ok, again, wrong on the whole “cell towers emit large amounts of radiation that can harm surrounding residences.” They don’t. Do the research.

        This town needs cell service. Period. If you don’t want it near a school because hysteria trumps actual facts, fine. Don’t put it near a school.

        But this town needs better cell service. And at some point someone needs to decide “the towers will go here” and everyone has to deal with it. But they do need to get put up. And soon. It’s ridiculous how long this issue has been dragging.

        Also, people need to stop driving with their brights on all the time 😉

  2. Maybe we should just invest in the use of transparent aluminum so these towers would not be visible to the naked eye, after 31 years it should be about ready. No matter where the towers are placed they will be visible to someone who would rather they be visible to someone else instead. I believe Chief Ponus made similar remarks when early English settlers started to migrate into these lands and put up their ‘ugly oversize McStores, McSheds and McMansions’ on what had only recently been open spaces.

  3. Can we play “real” baseball or other sports at Irwin? Always wondered what happened to that part of the park

  4. The Cell tower is a huge fail from the town. This is absolutely ridiculous. You’re going to put a new sidewalk in to go to the park and then ruin the green park with an ugly huge radiation filled tower and knock down trees and stuff. This is not good. New Canaan needs a better plan! Go Kevin!

  5. Forgetting aesthetics completely, putting a cell phone tower near a school is a horrifically bad idea.
    If you have children at West School do you want them exposed to low levels of radiation?
    Do you want them exposed to radiation literally the second they get off the bus (or are dropped off) to the second they go back home?
    Just like the cigarette manufacturers in the 50s, who not only said tobacco wasn’t bad for consumers they actually tried to say tobacco was good for consumers, the cell providers are doing the same today:
    Radiation, no, don’t worry about it, that’s not problem at all.
    The reality is far different: those towers emit radiation 24/7/365.
    They never, ever turn off.
    Blasting young and developing brains with radiation for 8+ hours per day every day is a very bad, very dangerous idea.
    Constant bombardment of even low dose radiation is not what I want for my own children or anyone’s children.

    • Nobody wants anything to happen to any children, obviously. Fortunately, if you look at the facts about cell towers even briefly you’ll quickly understand that, contrary to hysterical myth, they pose zero risks. In fact, your cell phone (and/or cell phones of your children) are actually more of a cause for concern, but even that concern is about zero.
      The first thing to understand is not all “radiation” is the same. There is ion-radiation (like that in X Rays) and non-ion radiation (like that in cell towers and FM radio). Ionizing radiation is the one you need to watch out for and that’s why there’s protective measures taken at a doctor’s office. But non-ionizing radiation is no more harmful than standing in a kitchen while someone’s heating up pizza in a microwave.
      On top of the fact that cell towers emit nothing that can harm you, they also emit quite a low amount of it. Especially at ground level. You can read up on all of this and data from several studies from the cancer society : https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/cellular-phone-towers.html
      Simple fact is cell towers won’t harm your kids, anyone’s kids, teachers, parents or even nearby squirrels.
      Of course, if you choose to believe all radio and microwaves are the same that’s up to you. But if you believe in facts (which is why any of our children go to school in the first place) hopefully this information will reduce anxiety down to the same level of harmful radiation cell towers put out – zero.

    • In reality the current towers are located near schools. Also right next to the Water Tower fields where many of the youth of New Canaan spend a good deal of time. Personally I think that the ground up tires that serve as padding for Water Tower field pose a greater risk than cell phone towers. If you are going to make the argument that cell phone towers should not be near schools then it should follow that cell phones have no business near schools either.

    • Amen, couldn’t agree more.
      -What this does for land values in New Canaan is a problem.
      -What this does for West school and our children is a problem.
      -What this does for a beautiful park that they’ll now destroy with trucks and knocking down trees is a problem.
      -The fact that the town didn’t tell anyone and went ahead and did balloon tests is a problem.
      -The fact that the town isn’t thinking of a more technological advanced solution is a problem.

      Don’t take the charm and quaintness out of New Canaan! No cell towers in our parks and schools…Find another location.

  6. All this fear about non existent radiation is hilarious. I agree with S.R. Educate yourselves PEOPLE ! On the same subject, nobody seems to be concerned that the lack of cell coverage in town poses a safety risk. You all complain that you don’t have cell service ,yet you complain about cell towers !! You can’t have it both ways.

  7. The bottom line is this: very few studies of any kind have been conducted on cell phone towers and cancer risk to human beings.
    Why such a dearth of studies?
    Because cell phone towers and cell phones themselves are still relatively new so even experts don’t fully understand the radiation implications.
    Should our kids be guinea pigs?
    Should we do exactly what happened with tobacco and wait a couple decades to learn, oh, wait a second, those cell phone towers were actually slowly killing us?
    The facts are these:
    Cell phones and cell phone towers emit radiation.
    Prolonged exposure to radiation is a risk.
    We can argue about how much of a risk but it’s a risk at some level.
    Does anyone dispute that?
    Kids as young as five do not need that risk.
    An earlier comment is exactly right: you can’t have it both ways.
    So if you ask me, would I rather have crystal clear cell phone reception on Oenoke or potentially – not definitively but potentially- be jeopardizing the long term health of a bunch of kindergartners and first graders in my own community?
    That’s not being fanatical or anything.
    That’s being cautious and conservative and smart.
    Think about it: the stakes are just too high here.
    Don’t put a cell phone tower next to a school.

    • Again, do some research and look at the facts. There actually have been many studies done on electromagnetic fields and their effects and, according to the World Health Organization, they’ve found nothing.
      True, there are some websites that claim there is a direct cause-effect relationship, but more often than not those sites ultimately are shells for some company selling something to “protect people” from the dangers of radiation. And yet again, they are purposely misleading people into thinking what cell phones emit (non ionizing-radiation) is the same as what xrays or nuclear bombs emit (ionizing-radiation). They are not.
      You say:
      “The facts are these:
      Cell phones and cell phone towers emit radiation.
      Prolonged exposure to radiation is a risk.”
      But you’re making a crucial mistake in misunderstanding the “radiation” that cell phones and cell towers emit. They don’t emit the “bad” radiation you are thinking of. They emit the same radiation your microwave oven does in your kitchen – which is to say, none.
      Think of it another way : Is anyone concerned children could get cancer listening to an FM radio? Or being exposed to the light given off by lightbulbs? Those are the same “radiation” of cell phones and cell towers. I.e. In the same way nobody gets cancer from FM radio, nobody gets cancer from cell towers. There is not one single reported connection between a cell tower and someone getting sick at all in any way, let alone getting cancer. It is a myth created and promoted by companies who want to sell you placebo “radiation protection kits” and nothing more.
      Arm yourself with facts instead of alarming yourself with misinformation. Nobody is going to get cancer from a cell tower. Period.
      On the other hand, studies DO show that people who get in massive car accidents and have to walk a mile (or more) to get a phone signal just to call 911 are at greater risk for being totally injured or dead. Also, some suggest that parents who show up drunk to pick up their kids from school (see various articles in this paper over the last year or so) might not have done so if only Uber could’ve found their house.
      The risks we have monkeying around finding the “perfect” place for cell towers are many. The risks the towers themselves pose is zilch.
      No matter where the towers get put up, let’s get them put up fast.

  8. Does any one know what is going on with the recently erected 100 foot+ pole at Exit 38? Looks like a cell pole to me. It might be Norwalk property, but am pretty sure that the pros and cons ought to also be a NC concern too. Possibly Norwalk has less of concerns here, or their twonhall is better organized, as NC keeps reviewing options they can’t even technically define. Am pretty sure that by the time Townhall actually hired three different expert panels, conducted 4 town meetings, and paid two set of lawyers to tell us that in any case the State of Ct is in charge – – cell towers will in any event be redundant, probably by then there are google drones doing the signal relays, or NC Townhall decided that fixed line phones are better.

  9. Hey “SR” … please tell your bosses at the cell phone tower company that you work for that you’ve put up links to articles that support your company’s position and done what else you can to spin the data positively so that the cell phone towers will go up in New Canaan and, not only go up, but are “put up fast” as you say.
    I and many, many others have broader concerns then putting up cell phone towers fast.
    Like the welfare of little kids.
    You can talk about ionizing and non-ionizing radiation all you want.
    There are risks that glioma, which is type of brain cancer, go up over time with prolonged exposure to both non-ionizing and ionizing radiation. This is not a certainty but what is a 100% certainty is that it’s a risk.
    Why? Why is it a risk?
    Because the bottom line is cell phones have not been around that long; huge cell phone towers have been around even less; so the studies you site do not go out that far in time; those studies typically based on a year or two or three’s worth of data, not because they’re run by incompetents but because the needed data does not exist.
    What about 20 years from now? Or 30 years? Or 40 years?
    They don’t know.
    No one knows.
    Some adult or adults want to “put up a tower fast?”
    So what.
    I don’t want the little kids at West School being guinea pigs so those adults aren’t inconvenienced in their oh-so-busy and important lives.
    To me at least, children’s safety is more important.

  10. People do you how much ” radiation ” comes from your cordless phone, TV , bedside clock radio, your automobile, your cellphone, the wifi in your house, your stereo and its speakers, the electricity running throughout your house, ETC ? The answer is a lot. However it is harmless, as is the Radiation being emitted by cell towers. Otherwise we would all be walking around with cancer and other horrible diseases.

    If I were you I would be far more worried about water quality, food born illnesses, The AIR WE BREATH ! Come on !

    I do agree that cell towers are not the most pleasant things to look at but they are not harmful to our health.

    Why don’t we all concentrate on the important things in life ( insert your real cause here) and move on…. Life is to short.

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