Nelsonville Urges Philipstown to Resume Cell Tower Talks

Mayor says town garage best location for everyone

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

On Monday (Dec. 17), during a meeting of the Nelsonville Village Board, Mayor Bill O’Neill urged Philipstown to resume negotiations that would place a cell tower at the town highway garage and presumably end litigation against Nelsonville while leaving a 190-foot tower on Route 9.

Homeland Towers and Verizon Wireless proposed in 2017 to erect cell towers on hillsides in Nelsonville and Philipstown. The Nelsonville tower would have been off Rockledge Road, overlooking the Cold Spring Cemetery. The Philipstown tower was to occupy a perch along Vineyard Road, off Route 9.

Philipstown and Nelsonville officials denied both permits, prompting Homeland Towers and Verizon several months ago to sue both municipalities in federal court.

This fall, a potential compromise emerged: Homeland would move the Vineyard Road tower to a spot lower on the hillside, closer to Route 9, and build a second tower at the town Highway Department garage complex on Fishkill Road in Nelsonville, instead of over the cemetery. However, after a balloon test demonstrated the height of a 190-foot tower on Route 9, the Town Board rejected the idea.

On Dec. 6, Supervisor Richard Shea said the town expects the case to go to trial.

O’Neill wants the talks and possible compromise resurrected.

“The solution is, as a community, to contemplate a tower at the Highway Department, which I thought was the least-worst alternative from the get-go,” he said, to general agreement from the Nelsonville trustees.

“If we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place fiscally because of [legal costs] then there has to be a compromise somewhere,” Trustee Alan Potts said.

At the same time, O’Neill complained that Philipstown excluded Nelsonville from participation in the Highway Department tower talks.

“It would appear Philipstown was negotiating a settlement on behalf of Nelsonville,” he said. “Why Philipstown — we offer our sincere thanks for working on our behalf — engaged in these discussions without consultation is somewhat mystifying.”

Shea did not immediately respond to O’Neill’s criticism. [Editor’s note: See comment below.]

Trustee Michael Bowman suggested that “from a best-case scenario, they were doing it without thinking it through completely because they were just trying to make the best decision for the community in general.” He added that “if there’s a chance to settle it, I’m willing to hear everybody out.” And that means the public, too, he emphasized.

“The town is in a terrible position,” Trustee Chris Caccamise said.

O’Neill also said the village received notification that in about eight weeks it must provide an “onerous, extensive” amount of material sought by Homeland Towers in its lawsuit against the village, “despite the fact that” during months of review of the Rockledge application, Nelsonville “sent them about 60 pounds in print outs, thumb drives and videos.” The mayor termed the demand “unreasonable” but said that after conferring with lawyers he concluded “we have no option.”

Beyond that, should the village go to court, “I have confidence that we will win, on the facts,” he said.

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One Response to "Nelsonville Urges Philipstown to Resume Cell Tower Talks"

  1. Richard Shea   December 22, 2018 at 7:47 am

    The article on the Nelsonville cell tower issue presented an incomplete picture of a complex issue and added confusion to an already fraught situation.

    Mayor Bill O’Neill’s comments follow an unfortunate pattern: call me up and cherry pick the conversation and articulate his version at a public forum. His bridge-burning style does not serve his constituents. Bombast and bluster never solve a problem.

    Here is what I have been doing for the last year. I have attended numerous settlement hearings in federal court in White Plains. I spent countless hours consulting with multiple attorneys to fully understand our position, liabilities and prospects. I have consulted with those who would be most affected by the two cell-tower proposals. In the end, and in consultation with my board, the decision was made to reject the one-sided settlement offer presented by Homeland Tower. The cell towers, as currently proposed, are bad for Philipstown and that is why the decision was made.

    I was never negotiating on behalf of Nelsonville as that is not within my purview. That is the sole responsibility of the Mayor of Nelsonville. Real battles like this one are won and lost in court and the more prepared you are the better the outcome. If Mayor O’Neill “has confidence that we will win” then why would I settle for a monstrous 190-foot cell tower that would have huge negative consequences for the residents of my town. The 5G race is on and this is not the last of this issue.