New Canaan’s highest elected official on Tuesday was outvoted by two fellow members of the Board of Selectmen on the timing of when the town should formally take up a divisive proposal to install a cell phone tower behind West School.
Echoing the cell tower developer who addressed the Board last month, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said during Tuesday’s regular meeting that it was important to move forward now with decisions regarding the proposed 125-foot “monopine” tower. Despite concerns raised by parents and neighbors in June, Moynihan included this item on the selectmen’s agenda for its July 12 meeting: “West Cell Tower – Discussion regarding draft lease between Homeland Towers and the Town of New Canaan regarding a proposed telecommunications facility at 769 Ponus Ridge Road.”
Selectman Nick Williams pushed back, saying it made more sense to discuss whether or not to pursue a cell tower at West School at all than to delve into the details of a proposed lease. Williams said the selectmen should wait until after Labor Day, when families return from summer break, to have that larger discussion.
“We’re talking about whether we put a cellphone tower up at West School or not. We don’t need to talk about the lease until we come to that decision,” Williams said at the meeting, held in Town Hall and via videoconference.
“I would say we should wait until at least after Labor Day, so that we can have a fulsome discussion when people are not in Nantucket or Maine or Vermont or whatever. This is ridiculous. This came up two weeks ago. Disappointed to see this on the agenda. I found out about this on Friday, as did Selectman [Kathleen] Corbet. A week before the Fourth of July this comes out, and a week after the Fourth of July, we’re discussing this. I just think this is really premature.”
Ultimately, Williams and Corbet voted in favor of taking up the discussion again in September, while Moynihan voted against doing so.
“We either have a discussion about this or table it, I will talk to the Town Council next Wednesday night,” Moynihan said, referring to the legislative body’s July 20 meeting. “Everybody has to understand the history of the last 10 years, of where we’ve been, to understand where we are today.”
Corbet said she agreed with Williams that “this needs more discussion, public discourse.”
“I appreciate everybody who took the time to come in this morning to speak with us,” Corbet said, referring to several residents who addressed the selectmen during he public comments portion of the meeting.
“I have read the lease agreement and a I have a number of questions but I think, as Selectman Williams just said, I think it makes more sense to discuss the lease agreement after we go over a number of these questions,” she said. Those include “what are the technology options, what are the location options, what are the data points, the coverage of existing cells,” Corbet said.
She called for the town to put together a timeline for deciding on the cell tower itself, with a possible discussion of the lease agreement to follow in September.
“Lots of work to be done, though, between now and Labor Day,” Corbet said.
Moynihan during the vote on Williams’s motion said only, “I vote no.”
The first selectman had started the Board’s meeting by laying out his hopeful timeline for this summer.
“We are not voting on a cell tower plan today,” Moynihan said. “We will discuss the plan today and we will discuss it again in two weeks and we will discuss it again in August. I talked to [Board of Education Chair] Katrina Parkhill, who is here this morning. We’re going to have a 90-day process to talk about this west side location, and as per our discussion today, you’ll see that we have a long way to go today to understand what our options are for the west side.”
Those who spoke during the public comment section urged the selectmen to study alternative technologies, questioned past statements that Moynihan had made with respect to per-capita cellular infrastructure in New Canaan compared to New York City, raised health-related concerns with respect to children and asserted that cellular coverage on the west side is already adequate. They also questioned what sort of access those maintaining the proposed new tower would have to West School and whether the town had already reached an agreement with Homeland Towers regarding placement of the cell tower on West School property.
Megan Morales identified herself as a New Canaan resident for seven years and concerned citizen whose youngest child just finished at West School.
She said it would be impossible in the summertime to make a decision on something so major as the West School cell tower proposal within a two-week timeframe.
“My biggest concern with this whole thing, really, is the lack of data,” Morales said. “If you’re entering into a business decision on something, there’s a due diligence report. Where is the data? The residents deserve the data. The town deserves the data. You should want to see the data that this is the right technology, that there isn’t something better out there, that the Richey tower on Soundview is doing what it was intended to do. What was the service like before? What is it now? Has it improved? You should want to see that data. I want to see that data. Make an informed decision that is the right decision for this town. There are a ton of really smart people here. We have questions and I think as taxpaying residents we deserve answers.”
Morales and town resident Barbara Wills both referred to a list of questions that a group of concerned citizens had put together for the Board regarding the West School cell tower proposal.
Some of those who took to the podium addressed the town’s plan to put a cell tower up at the corner of Ponus Ridge and Dan’s Highway in northwest New Canaan.
Mark Buschmann said he was a neighbor who would be most affected by the planned tower at 1837 Ponus Ridge, and that he had “spent a number of years” fighting it.
“I will say for everybody in this room that I’m glad people woken up about it,” Bushmann said.
In reference to a cell tower approved in 2020 on Soundview Lane resident Keith Richey’s property, he added, “We, frankly, were asleep while the Richey tower debate was going on. It was the first set of decisions and process that was put in place with a lack of transparency that has ultimately led to, now, a tower being proposed on Ponus Ridge. And frankly, if it wasn’t for our FOIA requests and us getting information out there, nobody in this room would have known about the West School tower until you probably would have filed the application with Homeland Towers with the [Connecticut] Siting Council.”
Buschmann added, addressing Moynihan directly, “Sir, you are a master at four-card monte, thinking about lack of transparency. This is what you do. It’s never you. It’s either the Siting Council, which has tremendous powers in the state. It is Homeland [Towers], who supposedly is doing all the work on behalf of the town, doing all this analysis, and yet puts forward an application, certainly, from our property, that is 140 feet from my home. Think about that—140 from a multimillion dollar property with no barriers to it. You are removing over 100 trees and they are within 140 feet of our four children. Is there even any thought that was given to that impact? No.”
Buschmann noted that the highest elected officials in towns like Westport and Stamford had stepped in on behalf of their residents to scuttle cell tower projects.
“You are seeing angry residents who clearly are not going to vote for you again,” he told Moynihan. “And what you have now is a groundswell of opposition.
Buschmann added, “It’s wrong. It’s your job to fix it. It’s not your job to jam it on us and I hope that you would actually do your job.”
Town resident Jane Raveret said that she had lived in the past in many places similar to New Canaan, with wealth, good schools and large houses, “and I see absolutely nothing here that compares to what I have seen in other governments.”
“I believe that what I am seeing here is complete disregard for the people who live here, and absolutely no openness about this process,” Raveret said. “I am ashamed that my first selectman does not protective rights of the people who live here. The children, the parents, the families who have chosen to live here, who are the next generation, who are not your generation.”
She also suggested that the cell tower at 1837 Ponus Ridge was advanced by deceptive means to the prior property owner, who had “rejected all offers for any other thing to happen on that property because they wanted to preserve that land” and was led to believe she was selling the property to the Land Trust, “and then your cronies just happened to find out that they can do a secret backdoor deal, put this together and make a bunch of money on it.”
She aded, ““I am just disgusted by what seen I have seen here and I just can’t believe that you have behaved this way. Shame on you.”
Moynihan during an update to the Board of Finance on Tuesday night noted that there was “a discussion” regarding the proposed West School cell tower but didn’t mention that it’s been postponed to after Labor Day.
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Great article! The taxpayers need to know about what is happening in our town. Westport opted for DAS/small cell technology to improve cell service rather than 120 foot cell towers marring the beauty of their town and putting residents health at risk. Why can’t New Canaan? The Selectman won’t even research this. His town cellular data is from 2014-2017 which is ancient in the world of technological advancements. There is ZERO transparency. We as taxpaying residents deserve more data, more research, more cost analysis, more options for improving cell service. Why did he disband the utilities commission who was researching all of this when he took office? Is the Soundview Tower even effective at improving cell service? Why is our Selectman so concerned about Homeland Towers and Carriers but not his own residents? Every other town like New Canaan has a leader who is thinking in the best interests of members of his/her community. We would like answers from our First Selectman. We need to know. We deserve answers.
A big thank you to selectmen Williams and Corbet, who stepped up to make sure that the entire community of New Canaan is represented by their government. It makes no sense to put massive structures into place all over town (including schools) without taking the time we need to make sure we are basing the decision and the solution on current data and the right technology. Westport made such a decision and found a better solution. A thoughtful, informed, inclusive process should be the norm going forward.
Thank you to selectmen Corbet and Williams for giving the residents of New Canaan their right to be part of this cell tower conversation. New Canaan’s beauty, history, education, property values, as well as the health and well-being of its residents do matter. We need improved cell service that honors all these different factors. It’s certainly available with technology advancing so rapidly so why would we even consider erecting a 125 foot monopine tower next to an elementary school playground. It makes us look negligent and uninformed.
Great article! Important! What’s the rush for these 2 cell towers which are not needed? What about satellite technology? Other solutions? Why is Kevin Moynihan so intent on this issue to the detriment of his constituents health? Maybe he is not informed or is it something he has to gain?
Both options are unacceptable in a First Selectman.