Claim company failed to demonstrate need
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Capping months of intense discussion, two Philipstown regulatory boards on Monday (Jan. 22) turned down an application from Homeland Towers LLC to construct a 140-foot cell phone tower near the intersection of Routes 9 and 301.
The dual decisions by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and Conservation Board came after futile overtures to Chris Fadden, who owns the land where the tower would be built, to allow it to occupy a different site on his 64-acre property to accommodate neighbors who claimed the spot Fadden leased Homeland would leave the tower looming above their homes.
ZBA and Homeland representatives spoke with Fadden on Jan. 17 but he rejected two alternative sites because he said they made the tower too visible from his own home, ZBA Chairperson Robert Dee reported on Jan 22. (Asked for reaction to the boards’ decisions, Fadden said on Thursday [Jan. 25], “I have absolutely no comment.”)
The ZBA voted 4-1 to deny a special-use permit for the tower and the Conservation Board voted 6-0 to refuse a wetlands permit. The project needed both to proceed.
Two weeks earlier, at a public hearing, the Conservation Board signaled its reluctance to approve a permit, noting in a statement that it “has never allowed a building in a wetlands buffer or encroachments on water courses unless there is an absolute, compelling reason to do so.”
Dee and the three ZBA members who voted with him to deny the special-use permit — Vincent Cestone, Paula Clair and Leonard Lim — collectively cited a lack of need, the negative impact of a tower on the town’s scenic and rural character, the threat to property values and conflicts with Philipstown zoning laws.
What is ‘need’?
Dee argued that the project did not address an “actual need” but was proposed “on speculation of future use.” That conflicts with Philipstown zoning code, he said.
The code requires applicants to establish a “present need” for a tower.
Dee also said the tower would be visible from public trails, conflicting with town code mandates on protecting scenic resources.
Although Homeland Towers representatives repeatedly attested to a “significant gap” in the Route 9 and Route 301 corridors, residents said they had no problems with their Verizon services. (Verizon partnered with Homeland on the project but left Homeland to oversee the application process.)
Dee said the board had not heard from Verizon that a gap existed, and Homeland “failed to prove there’s a substantial gap.”
Granite Frisenda, the ZBA member who cast the sole vote to approve the special-use permit, disagreed. “I drop calls all the time on Route 9 in the area” where Homeland Towers found problems. “That was my reason for voting” to approve the tower, he said after the meeting.
Philipstown’s zoning code directs tower applicants to “investigate the possibility of constructing a new tower on property occupied by an existing tower.” However, Dee said, Homeland Towers never suggested installation of a tower alongside an existing tower located about three-quarters of a mile away. Nor did the applicants look at making the existing tower higher in partnership with its owner, he said.
Lim pointed out that yet another tower stands near Tower Road, a short distance up Route 9 from the intersection, known as Mekeel’s Corner. “I’ve never seen three towers” so close together, he said, recalling that the 20-year-old Tower Road structure was expected to serve area needs indefinitely. “I don’t see anything that’s changed.”
Aesthetics and property values
Clair noted the proposed Vineyard Road project involved not only the tower but a 4,000-square-foot base for equipment storage and other purposes. “No rural homeowner would find that industrial view pleasing or acceptable,” she said, calling a tower “an abomination” in such a setting.
Dee said appraisals showed that a home near the tower could lose 30 percent of its value. Cestone recalled a conversation with a homeowner elsewhere in town who said the visibility of a cell tower forced him to steeply reduce his home’s sale price. “I don’t want to see that happening to others in Philipstown,” Cestone said.
Robert Gaudioso, the lawyer who represents Homeland Towers, declined to comment after the votes.
Although Dee and Gaudioso had sometimes clashed during the ZBA review, Dee praised Homeland Towers’ cooperation in seeking a compromise with Fadden. They “are actually under a pretty big restriction because a lot of the property Fadden naturally wants to develop and put homes on,” severely limiting options for a tower, Dee said.
Fadden’s 11,127-square foot home off Vineyard Road is on the market for $8.8 million, down from its 2012 listing price of $15 million. Real estate promotions tout its 270-degree views of the Hudson River, Manhattan skyline and West Point.