Though New Canaan’s highest-elected official has charted a course for approving a cell tower behind West School, it’s unclear whether his colleagues on the Board of Selectmen will approve a lease to make the new infrastructure possible.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan at the Board’s Sept. 6 meeting called for the Planning & Zoning Commission to decide between a tower 1,000 feet behind the Ponus Ridge school and another, taller one further out.
Yet at the Board’s Sept. 20 meeting, Selectmen Nick Williams and Kathleen Corbet did not commit—and in some cases, raised questions about—the prospect of approving a lease with the cellular infrastructure firm proposing a 125-foot “monopine” tower for West School.
“Why would we be pushing stuff to Planning and Zoning and to the Town Council and other public bodies when we as a group have not gone on record as for or against?” Williams said during the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference.
He added, “To be clear: There is going to be no cell phone tower put up anywhere unless we approve it as a Board of Selectmen.”
The discussion came during a section of the meeting where the selectmen weigh in on general matters before the town.
Moynihan said that although he initially thought Homeland Towers would have a formal proposal before P&Z on Sept. 27, the firm “is not ready to move forward with a balloon float” yet.
He said that P&Z is the town body that will make a “decision here on locations.” Moynihan appeared to refer to Section 7.8.E of the New Canaan Zoning Regulations, whereby a special permit from the Planning & Zoning Commission is required to erect a new cell tower on town-owned property (see page 165 here).
When Williams noted that the project appears to be moving forward even though there’s an open question about whether the selectmen will approve a lease, Moynihan said, “I think we all agree there needs to be a west [side of town] cell tower somewhere.”
This exchange followed:
Williams: I’m not sure that’s correct.
Moynihan: You don’t want a west cell tower?
Williams: I want to learn more about the need for a tower, present usage. There are a lot of questions I have with respect to this whole situation.
Moynihan said the cell tower is a matter of public safety and that he met with the school district’s Crisis Advisory Board “and the teachers and the administration are totally on board with getting cell service to West School.”
Williams called for clarification, asking, “So you are saying the superintendent and Board of Education is on board?
Moynihan responded, “They are on board with having cell service to West School. Where the tower is is a question, but we need cell service to West School.”
Williams said, “OK but can we hear that from somebody other than you? Can we hear that from the public? Can we hear that from the experts?”
The cell tower plan for West School emerged in public documents in June, drawing concerns from residents while Williams and Corbet called for more community input regarding the plan. They reiterated their call for a public information session.
“I think we did pledge that we were going to have some communication education, information sharing,” Corbet said.
She added, “I think whether or not the Board of Ed and teachers think they need it, which I agree, I think the public needs to hear that, too. So I think if we could schedule time for one or two sessions where there is information exchanged, the need for the cell tower.”
Williams said, “I thought we had an agreement among the three of us that we were going to have more information coming forward to educate me, and Selectman Corbet and you and the public should be part of that. We’ve received a lot of input from the public, much of which has been negative with respect to any cell tower at West School.”
Moynihan responded that “the cell phone tower is not at West School.”
“It’s on a 47-acre property the town owns,” he said.
Moynihan referred to 769 Ponus Ridge, the address of West School.
Williams said “but a lot of folks refer to this as ‘the West School cell phone tower.’ ”
They asked Moynihan whether the public info sessions could be held in early-October or prior to P&Z’s decision on the proposed tower.
Moynihan said people would have more information when the balloon floats are launched, adding that “this body [the Board of Selectmen] doesn’t decide where cell towers are going” and that the selectmen’s decision on a lease would come after P&Z’s decision about a location.
Williams said, “I guess it could, which is why it might be a waste of time for all of these other bodies going forward when the three of us haven’t made a determination.”
When Moynihan said “I think at least two of us are going to approve a cell tower on the west side of town,” Corbet said, “I have not made any decision until we go through a proper hearing of all the information.”
Williams said he looked forward to hear from the Board of Ed, superintendent and teachers.