P&Z Seeks Way To Influence Applications for Cell Towers on Private Property

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Though a state agency has exclusive jurisdiction over applications to erect cell towers on private property, town officials said Tuesday night, New Canaan should try to update its Zoning Regulations such that they urge—if not require—applicants to check in with the local Planning & Zoning Commission so that standards such as setbacks are respected.

New Canaan will have “real headaches” as efforts to improve wireless service move from using public land to private property, P&Z commissioner Laszlo Papp said during the group’s regular meeting, held in a crowded board room at Town Hall.

“I am afraid that we will have a tremendous public outcry … but very little to do because this is going to be the [Connecticut] Siting Council’s business, not the town’s business—a little setback or minor adjustment—and I am not happy to sit here and listen to that kind of an outcry,” Papp said at the meeting, attended by about 40 people, forcing some into a hallway.

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

The comments—addressed to a consultant who is advising the town on updating the telecom facilities section of its Zoning Regulations (see page 157 here)—come on the heels of a Soundview Lane resident disclosing that he’s pursuing what would be the first cell tower on private residential property in New Canaan (others already are installed on private property owned by the Country Club of New Canaan and Silver Hill Hospital).

Keith Richey’s plan—outlined on a newly launched website—calls for a tower with a total height of 90 feet, to be mounted from a base that forms part of a 1,763-square-foot structure inside a 2,310-square-foot area, according to a site plan shared with NewCanaanite.com. According to Richey, a substantial base is required because in opting for the least conspicuous tower—that is, one with the most “branches”—he also is choosing a tower that is most susceptible to high winds. The tower is expected to provide service from a radius roughly equal to the distance from his home to Route 123, he said, addressing service gaps for AT&T and Verizon in the northeast portion of New Canaan, as identified by a consulting firm more than three years ago. Richey said during an interview that he expected two carriers to be able to use the tower and that New Canaan’s ambulance, police and fire services would be able to use it for their emergency communications at no cost.

Site plan for the cell tower on Soundview Lane.

He said that the structure would be contained within a stockade fence and set in the woods on his property, screened by trees to be planted and located amid evergreen and deciduous trees, some of which reach 65 feet. Richey lives at the end of the cul-de-sac on Soundview Lane, next to St. Luke’s School, and he said the structure sketched on the site plan would be about 20 feet from the street as well as 20 feet from the property line he shares with the private school. Under the New Canaan Zoning Regulations, accessory structures in the four-acre zone must be set back 50 feet unless a variance is obtained.

Yet—though the Connecticut Siting Council solicits and values input from neighbors and residents during the process (see below)—such rules are not enforceable with respect to applications for permission to build and operate cellular infrastructure on private property, according to Melanie Bachman, the agency’s acting executive director.

Typically, a tower builder teams up with one or more carriers in applying to the Connecticut Siting Council for permission to operate cellular infrastructure on private property, according to Melanie Bachman, the agency’s acting executive director.

Prior to making that application for a “Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need,” the Council asks that the applicant meet with a town’s “chief elected official,” Bachman said—in New Canaan’s case, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan—to gather up any information related to areas such as wetlands and to see if the municipality “has any location preferences for the tower.”

“And also, the town could request that an applicant present to the public at an informational meeting at their own expense, for the residents and town commissions to get a sense of what is proposed and make recommendations,” Bachman told NewCanaanite.com during an interview.

After gathering up comments from municipal boards and commissions, the Council reviews the application for completeness and then schedules a three-part public hearing for a single designated day, she said. That includes a “field review” on the proposed cell tower site, evidentiary session where the applicant makes a formal presentation and evening public comment session (see FAQ here).

It was a public comment session that last spring derailed inchoate plans to put up cell towers on the west side of New Canaan. An outcry from residents led a town-appointed agency after several years of work to abandon a proposal for cell towers on public park and school grounds.

Moynihan, elected last fall following a campaign where improving cell service emerged as a point of debate, long has said that New Canaan likely must turn to private property in order to boost coverage.

Asked by NewCanaanite.com during a media briefing last Thursday about the prospect of a cell tower on a residential property on Soundview Lane, Moynihan said he would not comment on applications involving private land.

Neighbors who oppose Richey’s plan have been more vocal. A Facebook page dedicated to that opposition materialized quickly, and Richey’s direct neighbor to the south penned an Op-Ed decrying what he called a lack of transparency, and also raised questions about the effects that a cell tower would have on health and property values.

Under a draft proposal from the consultant— Glenn Chalder of Simsbury-based Planimetrics—Section 7.8 of the Zoning Regulations would be expanded, including with wording that notes when an application for a cell tower goes to the Siting Council straightaway (private property) versus after it’s vetted by the town (public).

At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioner Dan Radman asked Chalder to figure out a way to update the Zoning Regulations so that New Canaan is “in a position where an applicant with private land cannot bypass us as a commission or town and go strictly to the Connecticut Siting Council with an application and lease in hand and a plan.”

“How do we establish the sequence and processes where we have input in the plan?” Radman asked.

Chalder noted that there’s a notification requirement for cell tower applicants that includes the town and neighbors, but that he would need to research further the question of just what New Canaan could do with its Zoning Regulations to create the kind of touch point P&Z is seeking.

Referring to P&Z’s desire and the Siting Council’s jurisdiction, Papp said: “I am of the opinion that we should be able to find language that satisfies both. It’s not easy, probably, but I think it can be done and should be done.”

P&Z commissioners said the group should act quickly in order to put the proposed updates to the Zoning Regulations to a public hearing.

Ray Vergati, a regional manager for the tower company that Richey is work with, Homeland Towers, could not be reached comment.

8 thoughts on “P&Z Seeks Way To Influence Applications for Cell Towers on Private Property

  1. Thank you Laszlo and Dan. Property values, neighbors interest and controversial health concerns must be addressed. We have a democracy and not a dictatorship. It is ridiculous that a generator on a 5 by 2 foot contract slab must meet town ordinances and if 48 feet from a setback in a 4 acre zone needs a special permit or variance from ZBA. But a cell tower on a 2,000 square foot concrete slab with oversized fencing 20 feet from a cul de sac can circumvent local zoning regs to the detriment of surrounding neighbors.

  2. The generator for a house, or a tree house for the children, are for the owners use and benefit. A utility pole or a cell tower, a public building or refuse center, etc. etc. etc. are for the citizens use and benefit. Citizens can and should have their preferences heard, but you can NEVER satisfy everyone and if that is the only acceptable measure for getting anything done..nothing gets done. Sound familiar? Everyone wants the access and use of everything but NIMBY always wants it somewhere else, cell towers in my portfolio but not my neighborhood. Any choices like this must come down to a set of choices, ‘Here’, or ‘Here’, or ‘Here’? If it remains a Yes or No on any single site no site will ever be accepted. If you think DAR’s are a better option then you can have a choice of “cell towers at locations A, B and C for $x dollars,” or “a DAR system at these locations for a cost of $x+ dollars,” and once the choice between alternatives is made, it is done.

    • Have you visited the sight? It does not belong there. In the front yard. On top of a school. The Tower is redundant even in the words of Richey: it will reach to 123. Well that is already covered by the NCCC tower and to the East and South the Silver Hill Tower. Point is if the signals go as far as Richie claims then the Silver Hill Tower and NCCC Tower would have solved all of the North east corridor problems and any Laurel Road and Rosebrook and Turner Hill dead zones. Has anyone mapped how many homes will be served that do not already have service? This is a 4 acre residential zone with coverage, St Luke’s School and two reservoirs to the East and Northeast. Not many homes in the towers signal reach. Calling those who have multi million dollar residences and health concerns MIMBYs is rude just because you favor towers. Will the town cut the neighbors real estate tax based on the lower assessed value and reimburse them for the loss in the fmv and marketability of their homes (the largest asset in most portfolios). Dropping a call here and there is a small inconvenience as compared to diminishing the value of a neighborhood and possibly affecting the health of children at ST Luke’s and those residing in the residences. I do not know where you reside but please state publically here that you are open to a cell tower on your property with a 2,000 square foot concrete slab and a stockade fence 80 feet from your home, 20 feet from the road and in plain sight of your neighbors whose home prices and Home marketability will plummet.

      Thank you

      • Whether your house is worth a million dollars or a hundred thousand dollars, the value to the family who struggles each and every day to put a roof over the heads of their family is the same. Isn’t it nice you have 4 acre zoning so you have all that space around you, it is not an option for the majority of people who need cell service but live in suburban designs on tiny parcels. If you want to say this is not the best location, OK. Then put forward some specific alternatives that would also meet the public needs, allow a hard and fast selection between the specific alternatives and then sit down. If spot ‘B’ is selected over spots ‘A’ and ‘C’, the folks who did not get their way (ie. those who oppose ‘B’) do not then get to sue to block the choice that THEY did not want. And yes, I would be fine with a tower on my lot.

    • Wouldn’t it be nice to have a factual discussion about DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems) as opposed to monolithic towers? I suppose that if the Utility Commission had not been neutered, then maybe we could.

      For those of you who are unfamiliar with DAS installations, they are small boxes with antennas that are mounted to existing utility poles. The individual range (and electronic emissions) are limited, but they are deployed every few poles and provide a more seamless network with no change to aesthetics and without having to decide which neighborhood suffers for the public good. Everyone wins and no one suffers!

      In case you think this sounds like a fantasy – it’s not! It is my understanding that Rockland County mandates installation of DAS as opposed to building towers, and I also believe these are widely deployed in Greenwich. Both have similar terrain and economics to New Canaan

      So here we are, having a huge debate about a technology that has already been surpassed. An administration that was truly concerned about improving cell service throughout the town would be remiss not to examine a technologically superior means of doing so with virtually no impact to its neighborhoods

      • Wouldn’t it be nice to actually have good cell service instead of just discussing and analyzing options like has happened almost since the dawn of cell service in New Canaan.

        • DAR is an option. Fine, price it out and get a timeline for actual installation and operation and compare same to the ‘X’ number of cell towers we need at ‘Y’ dollars. Then pick one or the other and do it. No one who wanted the alternative option gets to run in and sue to block the process because THEY did not get what they wanted.

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