New cell tower looking more possible on Staples school site

A new cell phone tower in Easton is looking more possible.

The Connecticut Siting Council recently sent a coverage report and map to John Hayes, Easton’s land-use director, that shows most of Easton is without coverage. Planning and Zoning Commission members at their Jan. 28 meeting seemed open to the idea of a new cell phone tower to improve coverage.

Steve Carlson, a P&Z member, said he believes the town will eventually face more cell phone towers — currently two exist, a 190-foot tower on North Street and a 158-foot tower on Everett Road — and that the question was whether they should be on public or private land.

“Over time, we’re going to have more towers in this town,” he said.

Ed Nagy, director of the town’s Department of Public Works, said the lack of coverage at Samuel Staples Elementary School had emerged as a “very large concern” with staff at the school after the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. “Everyone is on edge up there,” he said.

Robert Maquat, the P&Z chairman, said opposition to erecting a new cell phone tower in town had to be viewed in the context of the Siting Council’s inclination to populate towns with cell towers and the potential effects on public health and safety from a lack of coverage. He added that town officials, under federal law, can’t consider potential health effects from cell phone towers on people nearby them.

“We said we would come back with results of a study, and we should come back with the reality of a lack of coverage in certain areas of town, the obvious one being Staples School,” Mr. Maquat said. “We’re headed down the right path if we can frame the reality of the situation to the public. That’s helpful from a planning perspective.”

Mr. Maquat said two residents who had expressed opposition to a new cell phone tower in the past had changed their minds after Superstorm Sandy.

The Siting Council’s report follows the P&Z’s decision in October not to support Homeland Towers of Danbury’s proposal to erect a cell phone tower on Morehouse Road property that includes Samuel Staples Elementary School. The P&Z, which heard vocal opposition to the proposal at that time, instead decided to gather more information about coverage in town and where a new cell phone tower could be placed to provide the most coverage.

On Jan. 28, Mr. Hayes told the commission that two public properties are viable sites for a cell phone tower — the south end of the Staples school property and the back of what used to be known as Toth Park on Black Rock Road. The latter would require a bridge to access it because it’s on the west side of the Aspetuck River, Mr. Hayes said. “Those are the two, apparently, most feasible town parcels,” he said.

Mr. Hayes said the Siting Council encourages cell towers on public property, as opposed to private property, and that the range of a tower is 1.5 miles to 2 miles if hills aren’t in the way.

The report from Linda Roberts, the Siting Council’s executive director, says coverage in Easton “appears to be mostly within the northeastern corner of the town.”

“The town appears to have some spots of coverage in all other areas that comes from telecommunications sites in neighboring towns,” the report says. “Easton lacks coverage in the central and southwestern portion of town and specifically coverage is lacking along large portions of Route 136 and Route 58 and along portions of Route 59.”

The policy issue confronting the P&Z is how to balance the need for better wireless communication in town with the objective of preserving the town’s character, Mr. Hayes said.

Mr. Maquat said the P&Z acts in only an advisory capacity and that the Siting Council has “ultimate jurisdiction” over the placement of a new cell phone tower in town.

But town officials have said previously that a company that wants to build a cell phone tower on town-owned land can’t do that without a lease approved by the Board of Selectmen.

Easton signFirst Selectman Thomas A. Herrmann last fall provided The Courier with a report from Homeland Towers that identified 10 schools in the area that have cell phone towers closer than 2,100 feet, which is what Homeland Towers identified as the distance that its proposed tower on Morehouse Road would be from Samuel Staples Elementary School. The distances on Homeland Towers’ report ranged from 200 feet for Hurlbutt Elementary School in Weston to 1,850 feet from Weston Intermediate School.

Homeland Towers’ report says its information was obtained from the Connecticut Siting Council’s database.

Mr. Herrmann also said last fall that he was aware of a private property owner who was in negotiations with a company that erects cell phone towers and that the private property owner lives closer to Samuel Staples Elementary School than the location of Homeland Towers’ proposed cell phone tower on Morehouse Road.

If the tower is built on private property, revenue from the lease of land would go to the private property owner; if it’s built on public land, revenue from the lease would go to the town.

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