Judge Says Neighbors Can’t Intervene in Cell Tower Suit

A cell phone tower being installed (Homeland Towers photo)

Also, Town Board changes zoning law for museums, galleries

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

A federal judge ruled that neighbors opposed to a 180-foot cell tower proposed for Philipstown cannot intervene in the lawsuit filed by the companies that want to build it.

In a five-page opinion issued on Dec. 17, Judge Vincent Briccetti of the U.S. District Court for Southern New York ruled that because the Philipstown government also opposes the cell tower — the town Zoning and Conservation Boards voted a year ago to deny a permit to a Homeland Towers and Verizon Wireless partnership, which promptly sued — the neighbors “fail to show they have an interest the defendants [town officials] will not adequately protect.”

The neighbors all reside within a quarter mile of the proposed tower site on Vineyard Road, near the intersection of Route 9 and Route 301. They are represented by attorney Andrew Campanelli.

In rejecting their request, the judge wrote that typically intervenors must demonstrate that a main party to a lawsuit, with whom they share basic concerns, is mishandling the case. To do that, they usually present evidence of “collusion, adversity of interest, non-feasance, or incompetence” by the main party.

In contrast, he said, the neighbors and Philipstown government “are aligned” in a common cause, with no evidence of differences. He expressed fear that allowing the neighbors’ participation would cause undue delays.

In a related development, at a Town Board meeting on Jan. 3, Supervisor Richard Shea announced that the board had hired a new law firm, Bleakley Platt & Schmidt, based in White Plains, to defend the town in the lawsuit.

Although the judge declined to let the neighbors get involved in the legal case, Shea said Campanelli, who “has a wealth of knowledge on this issue,” can advise the town’s new attorneys, John Diaconis and Adam Rodriguez. “They will be working closely with him and with the neighbors,” he said. During settlement negotiations this past fall, an insurance company lawyer, Terry Rice, represented the town.

Magazzino

Dealing with other business at its Jan. 3 meeting, the Town Board voted 5-0 to change the zoning law to allow museums and art galleries to operate in the office-commercial district, a change inspired by Magazzino Italian Art on Route 9.

When it opened in 2017, Magazzino called itself an art space and required visitors to make appointments. In September 2018, its owners, Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu of Garrison, established a nonprofit to run it, recast it as a museum, and opened it five days a week, at set hours.

Shea expressed concern at the board’s Dec. 6 meeting that if the building and property were transferred to the nonprofit foundation, “there would be tax implications for the town.” On Jan. 3, Shea said that he had discussed the situation with Magazzino officials, who informed him that while “the foundation will own the business; the ownership of the building will remain private. So they will continue to pay taxes,” which amount to about $35,000 a year.

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