Town Board Eyes Cell-Tower Zoning

Also, suggests name for senior center, opposes gas pipeline

Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea said last week that the town needs to look more closely at its zoning laws regarding cell-phone towers.

During the board’s monthly meeting on March 1, Shea said that because “we can see more on the horizon” (figuratively, if not literally), Philipstown must look at cell towers and its code. “The last thing we want to see is more polluting our ridgelines and skylines.”

Homeland Towers LLC and its partner, Verizon Wireless, sued the town last month after the Philipstown Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and Conservation Board rejected the companies’ application for a cell tower along Vineyard Road, just south of the intersection of Routes 9 and 301.

Councilor John Van Tassel observed that coming 5G wireless technology will rely on shorter towers positioned much closer together, “like every 1,000 feet.”

(In 2016, Tom Wheeler, then chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, observed that “if siting [i.e., the approval process] for a small cell takes as long and costs as much as siting for a cell tower, few communities will ever have the benefits of 5G,” which will provide speeds up to 10 times faster than 4G but is still years away.)

Robert Dee, the ZBA chairperson, recommended that the zoning code extend the setbacks for cell towers from 150 feet to 500 feet; create a uniform height limit, because currently the code limits towers to 110 feet in some places but 195 feet in others; and demand stronger evidence from cell tower companies of gaps in service as experienced by actual customers, instead of using projections.

Councilor Mike Leonard said Philipstown also needs to clarify how far the federal government can demand Philipstown go to satisfy tower companies “if this town decides we don’t want one particular tower or service in an area.”

Federal telecommunications law governs many aspects of cell tower operations, minimizing local governments’ authority.

Butterfield center

At the same meeting, Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra (R-Philipstown) asked for input from board members on what to name the county senior center being developed on the old Butterfield Hospital site.

Town Board members suggested it honor Julia Butterfield, the 19th-century philanthropist who provided money for the Cold Spring hospital.

(In 2015, the county announced plans to name the building The Roger Ailes Senior Center, after the then-Fox News chairman and Garrison resident, who promised $500,000 for the project. But Ailes withdrew the offer after resigning from the network in 2016 following allegations of sexual harassment.)

Whether the facility will be strictly a senior center or also available for community events remains unresolved. “The Village [of Cold Spring] has a little problem with the ‘community’ part of it,” Scuccimarra said.

At a Feb. 27 Village Board meeting, Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy opposed making the building a community center as well as a senior center, because the village’s Butterfield redevelopment approvals were based on “a very specific use” of the space as a senior center. “If the county believes that they can turn this into a community center, there is going to be a problem,” he said.

The idea of a building that serves both seniors and the community is not new. Respondents to a 2007 survey conducted for the village comprehensive plan mentioned creating a facility for seniors, teens and the “whole community” on the old hospital grounds.

Beginning in 2010, when Cold Spring, Philipstown and Putnam County began considering possibilities for the site, they spoke of a municipal building with county, town and village offices; local courts; a post office; police and sheriff’s offices; and a senior and community center large enough for public meetings.

The idea remained on the table for at least three years but disappeared after Ailes made his offer; as county officials sparred over how much of a county presence to have at Butterfield; and as the Butterfield redevelopment continued under village review.

Scuccimarra told the Town Board she would still like to see the facility accommodate a Department of Motor Vehicles office, a women’s resource center to assist victims of domestic violence and offices for the county health department and other agencies that could function when the senior programs aren’t in session and “we have an empty building and an empty parking lot.”

“I was not looking to make this a community center that would have hordes” all day, she said.

Councilor Nancy Montgomery said she believes “seniors expected that it was going to be exclusively for them” while county and other municipal offices went elsewhere.

Shea suggested the building could meet assorted needs, such as hosting county flu-shot clinics.

Van Tassel asked if the center “would be available for meetings” and noted that “we might be needing some space.” The board plans major renovations to Town Hall, including its meeting room and courtroom.

Scuccimarra said it would depend on the meeting type but termed such use “what I meant by a ‘community’ center.”

While the debate continues, Scuccimarra said one facility not geared solely to seniors may open this month: the post office.

Algonquin pipeline

The board unanimously passed a resolution calling on New York State to release the study of the risks of the installation of the 42-inch natural gas Algonquin pipeline at the Indian Point nuclear power plant and to conduct a further evaluation.

The study, commissioned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was supposed to be finished by Dec. 31, 2016. The pipeline began operating in 2017.

The resolution cited the Town Board’s “principal responsibility to protect the health and safety of its residents, businesses and institutions”; noted that even after the nuclear operations cease, 5.4 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel will remain on the site and that a gas pipeline rupture could ignite it; and warned that a nuclear disaster could “render Philipstown uninhabitable for generations.”

“It’s a little crazy,” Shea said. “Taxpayers pay for a report they aren’t able to get. You’ve got to wonder why they’re so reluctant to release it.”

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