The Nelsonville Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) has the unenviable task of deciding on April 30 whether a cell tower overlooking the Cold Spring Cemetery constitutes a significant visual impact on our cultural and scenic resources (Rockledge Cell Tower Review Continues, April 6). Its placement adjacent to a National Historic landmark and within one of a few districts designated by New York State as a Scenic Area of Statewide Significance (SASS) makes this a precedent-setting decision of the highest consequence.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation describes SASS regions such as ours as “special places that the public has deemed worthy of protection due to the inherent aesthetic value associated with the resource.” Our SASS designation is the result of years of planning by state policy makers and local municipalities eager to have the exceptional scenic resources of this area recognized. Workshops and public hearings to solicit feedback were held throughout the Hudson Valley, including in the Philipstown Town Hall in 1990, where we meet now to consider the cell-tower application.
The small river communities in the Hudson Valley SASS regions are responsible for upholding its mission of preservation. As the lead agency in this review, the ZBA has sole authority to decide if the proposed tower will negatively impact the village — from its historic and natural resources, to its aesthetic singularity and community character. In a letter dated April 15, experts from the SUNY Landscape Architecture program wrote the ZBA to express their opinion that “the historic resources, the valley vistas, and the local residents’/visitors’ visual experiences would inevitably be infringed upon” by each of the design proposals submitted by Homeland Towers.
The developer would like the community to believe that a cell tower situated in the heart of what makes our village special is not a big deal. But these businessmen don’t get to decide what our village values are or what we find visually spectacular or historically meaningful. This decision rests with residents — in this case, the members of the ZBA.
As Nelsonville residents, my husband and I feel deep gratitude to the village for its decades-long efforts to preserve its natural resources, celebrate its rich cultural history and encourage development that reflects the scale and spirit of our bucolic environs. It is my sincere hope that the ZBA will continue this tradition and at its April 30 meeting refrain from granting a special permit to Homeland Towers.
Dove Pedlosky, Nelsonville
I wait with a heavy heart for the April 30 vote. I dread the outcome because I have watched the bullying salesman technique used by the tower company. In meeting after meeting, its lawyer, Robert Gaudioso, threatened a lawsuit if the zoning board members didn’t approve the tower. In meeting after meeting, members of the board attempted to untangle themselves from the sales pitch and get to the truth.
One trick of sales is that if you convince buyers they have to choose between options, they will pick one. They will buy something. I have been to every meeting, listened to every word, and the sales pitch is evident. The tower company is selling its designs, and the Zoning Board members must pick one. If they don’t pick one, we lose control.
This is not true. The federal government allows villages like ours some independence — we can choose our vision, our design, a common plan for our town. This is why we have planning and zoning boards. Because these boards are us — our neighbors, ourselves — deciding what will happen to where we live for years to come. The law says our board can say no to a bad application, as long as it can show, in detail, why it said no. It’s that simple. The board should take back its power and find better places for our cellphone technology.
I have a heavy heart because if the bullies succeed in pushing the Zoning Board to accept this terrible tower, our village will not only destroy a cherished and historic site, but will also do harm to so many of our neighbors whose lifelong view will be destroyed, whose trees will be cut down and a road put through their yard, and who go to visit family members buried in the peaceful, beautiful, sanctuary of our village cemetery.
And it will not just be those neighbors but those in the future who will find, after this tower has been approved, that the next one is in their view, through their yard, in their tranquil, cherished spot. The approval of this tower will set such a low bar, such a bad precedent, that nowhere in our village will be off limits.
If there is approval, there will be real division in the village. I am angry at the perpetrators — the tower company — for trying to make the board believe it must go against the community. Will the bullies, whom we will never see again, succeed in dividing us with their fear tactics? Could you forgive a neighbor who approved a 110-foot tower between the mountains and your window? If this tower is approved, you will have a lifetime of towers to figure that out. The vote is April 30, but the outcome may last forever.
Eliza Matthews, Nelsonville
As part of our effort to combat the one-sided set of facts produced by Homeland Towers, our community was aided by Robin Hoffman, a professor at and curriculum director for the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. No one more understands better the important role communities like ours play in protecting our natural environment.
I encourage everyone to read the report that she created for the Zoning Board. This report helped us to understand the SASS designation and the work done by our neighbors to protect our natural areas. According to Hoffman, because of this designation, if we as a community allow these towers to be built then we risk setting a dangerous precedent for the entire Hudson Valley.
This vote is that important. We are unique in the legal power we have been granted to say no to these towers. Hoffman says that the approval of the application despite the SASS could lead to “an amassing of towers along the riparian corridor’s recognizably-valuable scenic ridgelines. Disapproving the proposed tower would likewise set a precedent example for nearby villages, in that it may afford the empowerment of communities to legally wield a greater measure of control and preservation ability toward high-visibility structures becoming introduced among the SASS-designated scenic resources.”
Let’s not be the village that sets in motion the covering of the Hudson River Valley with cell towers.
Dave McCarthy, Nelsonville
McCarthy is a member of the advisory board of Highlands Current Inc.
As a community member and a practicing litigation attorney with more than 15 years of experience, I am concerned about how the law has been misrepresented by the applicant and how as a result it may be misunderstood by the ZBA.
Under federal law, the ZBA has the discretion to deny cell-tower applications where a denial is rationally supported by substantial evidence (e.g., expert testimony, supporting case law, statistical data). In this application, there is overwhelming substantial evidence in support of denial. Federal court rulings have upheld many cell tower application denials, even when supported by significantly less evidence in opposition than is now before the ZBA.
Homeland Towers has a right to sue if there is a denial, which it will likely do as a matter of course. It does not mean, however, that simply filing a claim will result in success. As a litigation attorney, I can attest that most lawsuits are settled, and by compelling the tower company to file suit when it is in a position of weakness on the merits, the village will have the upper hand in any settlement negotiations and the leverage to dictate better terms. Such leverage is lost if it merely votes in favor of this flawed application.
Jason Biafore, Cold Spring