Op-Ed: St. Luke’s Neighbor Pursues Cell Tower on Private Residential Property

This is to confirm that a Lease Option Agreement has been signed with Homeland Towers (the town’s selected cell tower provider) for a potential cell tower at 183 Soundview Lane. The LOA requires a cell carrier to sign-up as sponsor in order for anything to happen. No carrier has signed. If a carrier does sign up, then the town will have the opportunity for input. After the input period, a cell tower site application may be made to the Connecticut Siting Council (CSC). The CSC has complete control of cell towers in Connecticut and established this process. There is no other process and there have not been any shortcuts in the process.

This is what the cell tower planned for a private property at the end of Soundview Lane would look like.

Under the Lease Option Agreement, a cell tower with a maximum height of 85 feet could be constructed. The tower is required to be of the newest and best faux-tree design with three branches and foliage per foot to conceal all external antenna in the form of a “faux” evergreen tree native to Connecticut. The faux branches will start at 20 feet and extend to as much as 5 feet above the tower to achieve complete concealment and natural appearance. The cell tower will look like this (at right).

The faux tree won’t look at all like the terrible one on the Hutch and will be much nicer than recent one constructed in North Salem, N.Y. It will be surrounded by evergreen and deciduous trees, some reaching 65 feet or more. Compare the maximum (including camouflage) height of 90 feet to the 140 foot water tower and 120 foot towers on 123 and at Silver Hill.

In May 2017 the journey began when I was asked by then Councilman Kevin Moynihan if I would mind having a cell tower at Saint Luke’s School (SLS) since it is next to my home. I understood immediately the attractiveness of the location because Soundview Lane has one of the highest elevations in New Canaan and the cell service in the area is terrible. I responded to Kevin that I would mind and that if there had to be a cell tower in the area, I would prefer it be on my property so I would have control for its location, size and appearance. Kevin suggested that I contact Ray Vergati of Homeland Towers, the tower company that has contracted with New Canaan, to understand the current state of affairs and my options. I did so and Ray (Homeland Towers) confirmed that there had been a discussion with SLS. I was also told that the woodsy area we have that adjoins the upper SLS playing fields would be a good site for a cell tower and they would be interested in entering into discussions.

I called Rob Mallozzi, then First Selectman, to tell him of my dilemma. Rob was supportive and suggested that I contact Tom Tesluk, head of the Utilities Commission, a cell tower expert and someone who attended the meeting with SLS. Rob also gave me access to Cityscape, the engineering firm advising the town regarding cell service. Tom Tesluk confirmed that there had been a meeting with SLS but would not divulge the details as this was a private meeting. I was not at the SLS meeting and will never know exactly what was said at the SLS meeting or meetings. The point is that I did believe that SLS would entertain the idea. It was with that fear that I began my investigations and tentative discussions with Homeland Towers.

Tom Tesluk said that better cell service in our area was important and confirmed that our location had been identified as an optimal site by Cityscape. Tom provided a copy of the excellent public presentation that the Utilities Commission had prepared. I then contacted Cityscape and had the first of many discussions with them. They told me that SLS and my property were “the best sites in New Canaan” for a cell tower because of its elevation, topography, and isolation.

I also learned from Cityscape that only the Connecticut Siting Council has control over the approval process for cell towers. The town has the opportunity to provide input once a lease has been signed by a carrier and a landowner. In fact, I read many of the site applications that are available in the CSC public records.

I spent weeks researching the health aspects of cell towers. Obviously, the health issue was critical as we are talking about a potential cell tower that would be a few hundred feet from our home, whether at SLS or on our property. Some people have characterized the results of the studies on the health impact of cell towers as “inconclusive” but my view is that these studies are as conclusive as any good science can be. Frankly, I can’t understand how anyone who can read can believe that there is any credible health concern. The position paper of the American Cancer Society concludes “most researchers and regulatory authorities do not believe that cell phone towers pose health risks under ordinary conditions” and a Harvard Study which states that because “a cell phone needs to operate at greater power for its signal to reach base stations further away. This leads to more radio frequency exposure to the cell-phone users when base stations are widely spaced. When phone users are close to towers, the cell phone will emit signals at lower power, which means less radio frequency exposure to a user, so more towers generally reduce a user’s radio frequency exposure.” “To date, there is no consistent scientific evidence of adverse health effects from exposure to radio frequency fields at levels below those that cause tissue heating.”

Cityscape provided me with the output from their work to determine the minimum height that a cell tower could be at our location and still serve the area. I was advised that the absolute minimum height was 85 feet so that became the maximum height that we would accept and an essential part of the on and off negotiations with Homeland Towers.

I also researched cell tower design and found that it has progressed significantly and that new designs are available that provide excellent concealment. The new faux trees are virtually indistinguishable from a large evergreen tree which is optimal for a site like mine that is surrounded by trees. I confirmed with Tom Tesluk that this design would be optimal in providing coverage (versus the flagpole design on 123). This became another requirement of the lease negotiations with Homeland Towers.

My goal has been to only allow a tower design that none of my neighbors can see from their property (aside from SLS) or if they can see any part of it, that they see it from hundreds or thousands of feet away and it looks just like a tree that fades into the landscape which is full of trees. The goal was also that no one’s property values would be affected negatively. I think these objectives were achieved and that if the subject cell tower is ever built, there will be no impact to our neighborhood.

Note that 183 Soundview is over four acres, is roughly triangular and the property on two sides of that triangle are owned by SLS. The other side is at the opposite end of the four-acre lot. The potential site is on the corner of the property along the border with SLS across from the SLS playing fields and surrounded on the other side by our large woodsy area. The cell tower will be a considerable distance from any neighbor other than SLS. The Connecticut Siting Council has issued rules regarding the required distance from school buildings and the potential site more than complies with those rules.

I negotiated with my neighbors’ best interest in mind as my concern was, and remains, that someone will agree to a 110-150 foot ugly cell tower on our street in order to obtain more carriers and more rent. I prepared a long and detailed presentation for my neighbors to inform them about the potential cell tower but wanted to wait until a carrier had signed on before releasing it. That did not work out as someone mentioned the negotiations to my neighbor, Hugh Wiley. Since then I sent my presentation to Hugh and my other neighbors and tried to explain the situation to them via multiple emails. I have offered to have neighborhood meetings at my home.

The negotiations were between me and Homeland Towers. I asked Kevin, Rob, Tom and the others who were aware to not disclose the negotiations because nothing might come of it and public discussion could make the process more difficult than it already was. Everyone shared the view that a cell tower to serve this part of town would be a good thing, would dramatically improve cell service in the area, which will make it safer and could in fact improve property values. My investigations and the negotiations went on for months and for a long time it was not clear whether anything would ever be signed. The final height and design details were only agreed by Homeland Towers before the holidays after months of negotiations. Again, the Lease Option Agreement is essentially a framework that requires a cell carrier to sign up. Then there is the opportunity for town input and then submission to the Connecticut Siting Council. That is the process in Connecticut.

11 thoughts on “Op-Ed: St. Luke’s Neighbor Pursues Cell Tower on Private Residential Property

  1. Totally unacceptable. Mr Richey did this without notifying his neighbors or without their input. Apparently no concern as to the controversy on adverse health affects on the neighborhood or the adverse affect on property values of his neighbors. My home is on the corner of Soundview Lane and Laurel Rd and our cell service is fine. Only in two areas about a mile away on Laurel Rd where the road dips do you occasionally drop a blue tooth call. Not a big deal at all. The cell reception on Soundview Lane is also fine. The subject property birders St Luke’s School and apparently there is no concern for the potential adverse affects on the young students. Residents came out I. Drives to reject cell towers at the West School or any other school last year at public hearings before the Utility commission. Apparently Mr Richey did not get the memo. By going directly to the utility Mr Richey circumvents any action by the P and Z or ZBA and leaves his neighbors holding the bag with the only recourse with the sitting council. Geez to place a cell tower on ones property can go upwards of six figures a year. It is troubling that my neighbor would place financial gain Bove our welfare. Mr Richey should do the right thing and reverse his decision.

    • First of all, congratulations to you Roy that you have great cell service. Must be nice knowing that you can call 911, order a pizza or talk to anyone (save for that “dip” on Laurel Road which is no big deal) whenever you want. As someone who has zero signal I can tell you that is some luxury. I’m curious, are you at all concerned about the health and safety of those people who live near the cell towers that give you such great service (save for the “dip” on Laurel Road of course!)? Or do you accept, as do all real scientific studies, that cell towers are totally safe? That they emit the same “radiation” as FM radio towers and microwave ovens (which, btw, have caused zero issues for anyone, anywhere at any time in history?). If so, it seems somewhat hypocritical that you’d take such umbrage with someone trying to solve New Canaan’s crazy cell service problems while, pardon my french, offering merde in the name of alternative solutions? I, for one, think better cell service actually improves property values. If nothing else, it certainly helps my Uber driver. But I defer to you to provide proof that good cell service has an economic downside. And while you’re at it, proof that cell towers pose a safety risk (which, btw, if they actually do, you might want to consider moving since you apparently are in a danger zone).

      In the meantime I applaud Keith Richey and hope more private residents follow suit.

  2. Finally someone is doing something about the lack of cellphone service. We should commend these folk for stepping up to the plate. public safety is a big concern – just talk to the folks whose house burned due to lack of cell service. Living in a “dead zone” is unsafe, inconvenient, and detrimental to property values. Both Harvard and the American Cancer Assoc support such towers as being safe. New Canaan should support this initiative whole-heartedly.

  3. We also need to address the lack of Transparency of our elected officials who according to Mr Richey’s Op-Ed we’re complacent in his endeavor. actually approached him and worked with him. They put their agenda before the rights of the surrounding neighbors to know. That is sneaky and a complete lack of transparency. Amazing how politicians totally ignore the rights of members of the electorate once elected in order to accomplish their personal agendas. Hopefully if and when a hearing is held before the Citing Council opposing neighbors and the ST Luke’s School ( which entity has also over expanded to the deteriment of the community) will prevail in stopping this unnecessary financially motivated endeavor of one individual.

  4. Improving cell service in the northeast section of New Canaan should be a non-zero sum game. If the opponents of the proposed tower could empirically prove the economic and health costs of the tower exceed the benefits of better cell phone coverage for 1000’s of residents, please have at it. But remember, the benefits side includes the possibility of saving a life in an emergency situation plausibly caused by a fallen tree or fire or icy road conditions. And add-in the unnecessary costs of households maintaining a backup land-line service (and all those damn solicitation calls). For those who say get a home signal booster, I say how will that help emergency services who transit our area or the many service providers who come to my home. Lastly, I’d like to tell my children and houseguests cell service has improved. For 15 years my family and I have lived with poor to no cell service. Time to get signal. I support our elected officials push to improve coverage.

  5. I wanted to address one point that some of the NIMBY opponents have raised about creating a “precedent” and that this would be the first cell tower on private property in New Canaan. In fact, I believe every cell tower in New Canaan is on privately owned property – the water tower is on property owned by Aquarion, the cell tower on 123 is owned by the Country Club, the cell tower on Valley Road is on property owned by Silver Hill, and the cell towers on the buildings in downtown New Canaan are on private property. Certainly the ones at Silver Hill and the CCNC would be considered to be within neighborhoods. It is my understanding that the town wanted each of these cell towers, and as my editorial should have made clear, I was assured that the town wanted and wants this one. Therefore, there is no new precedent being created. Also please note that the process for all of these towers was generally the same as will be for the one at the end of the cul-de-sac on Soundview Lane. There is no review by P&Z or any town agency – the decisions are solely that of the Connecticut Siting Council and they won’t address the issue until a carrier has entered into a lease – and none have.

    Please do not be confused by the misinformation being spread around and please don’t succumb to the NIMBY crowd arm twisting being exerted. The cell tower will be a good thing. None of you will see it unless you are a few feet away, it will improve your cell service and safety, (EMT, Fire, Police). There should be zero impact on the property values of anyone on Soundview Lane or elsewhere (except possibly higher due to better cell service).

    Also, please consider that I made concessions to get the smallest and most concealed tower design and that my house is on the end of a cul-de-sac surrounded by woods and playing fields – there is no better location. I have been a volunteer member of town government for almost twenty years and involved in leadership roles in many organizations in town, I assure you that the best interests of the town of New Canaan and of my neighbors was forefront in my mind during the entire negotiations. I believe the tower will do nothing but good and there is no real reason to believe otherwise.

    • Why was the first selectman candidate in talks with you to do this in 2017, before the election, why were talks underway after the election without alerting anyone to the talks or process? No op-ed in the paper then? No public hearing, in the fall? etc?

      To be clear, we need a tower and our Town leadership missed the boat—a tower should have been put up years ago to solve this major health and safety problem. However, it isn’t fair that it was done in the dark. Sorry, but that’s the way it reads.

      Instead of dismissing your fellow New Canaanites as “NIMBY’s”, perhaps take a step back from your private contract complete with large financial gain to understand that people in New Canaan are tired of buying homes at top prices, paying high taxes, with the risk of one day waking up next to a cell tower, sober house, or mega church/ International think tank. Where is the Town then? If you want to put up a shed you will have hearings, fees, forms, notices,plans and a few more fees (and you better not touch the wetlands!!! Cuz there’s more fees, forms and hearing about that!!) . A cell tower gets a green light, no problem, no questions asked—-that’s not a NIMBY complaint—-it’s calling it as it is. Completely unfair.

      • Dear Mr. Smith,
        For detailed answers to your questions and impartial information, see the material on soundviewcelltower.com
        In short the answers are:
        Depends – in my case, a fraction of the figures cited by others.
        20+ years + renewals
        No health effect, better cell service.
        See the American Cancer Society and Harvard studies on the website.
        There are the truly ugly designs – you see them along the highway plus see the photos in the presentation on the website (soundviewcelltower.com ). And there is the smokestack design which is not bad but those generally need to be higher than the faux tree designs.
        No difference in health effects since there are no health effects.
        No difference in compensation if the tower had the sane number of carriers and the carriers were willing to pay the same but it is all negotiated. There are standard rent ranges but New Canaan is low density and there is already coverage in many areas. Obviously, one might get paid more for a higher tower which would have a larger reach but even in that circumstance the rent a carrier would be willing to pay would depend on the carrier’s existing coverage in the area.

      • Elizabeth,
        Just to clear this up, Mr. Moynihan was not involved in my negotiations. His question to me last year was whether I would care about a CT next to me. It alerted me to the dilemma that we had to face. I did consult with the then First Selectman and the head of the Utilities Commission. All endorsed the idea but none were involved in the negotiations between me and the cell tower company .

        Would you want your negotiations regarding the sale or rent of your property to be public or depend on the whim of your neighbors? And yes, your negotiations could affect their property values.

        The approval process that the state of Connecticut has established starts when, and if, a carrier signs up for a site application. None have signed up. Complaining about a lack of process, when the formal process hasn’t even started yet and may never need to, seems a bit strange to me.

        I reiterate that I believe that none of my neighbors will see the little faux tree cell tower from their properties (apart from SLS) and that it should have no impact on their property values.

  6. How much does the property owner where cell towers are constructed like this get paid? How long are the contracts for? What effect do they have on neighboring properties? What have objective studies shown on the cell tower radiation effects? What are the alternatives to the huge fake trees? Do those have lesser negative health effects, economic compensations on sites?

    • Dear Mr. Smith,
      For detailed answers to your questions and impartial information, see the material on soundviewcelltower.com
      In short the answers are:
      Depends – in my case, a fraction of the figures cited by others.
      20+ years + renewals
      No health effect, better cell service.
      See the American Cancer Society and Harvard studies on the website.
      There are the truly ugly designs – you see them along the highway plus see the photos in the presentation on the website (soundviewcelltower.com ). And there is the smokestack design which is not bad but those generally need to be higher than the faux tree designs.
      No difference in health effects since there are no health effects.
      There are standard rent ranges but New Canaan is low density and there is already coverage in many areas. Obviously, one might get paid more for a higher tower which would have a larger reach but even in that circumstance the rent a carrier would be willing to pay would depend on the carrier’s existing coverage in the area.

      Sorry that I put this response in the wrong box.

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