Proposed Cell Tower Settlement Draws More Attacks

A cell phone tower being installed (Homeland Towers photo)

Neighbors of Vineyard Road tower favor balloon test, possible trial

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Confronting fresh outcries from residents and questions about communication between lawyers, the Philipstown Town Board last week postponed a decision on settling the 17-month-old lawsuit over the town’s rejection of a cell tower along Vineyard Road.

At a July 3 workshop, the board delayed action on the proposed agreement with Homeland Towers LLC and Verizon Wireless to allow further discussion with neighbors of the proposed project and their lawyer, Andrew Campanelli; and the town’s attorney, Adam Rodriguez, who missed the July 3 session because his wife had a baby that day.

The board scheduled the follow-up discussion for Wednesday, July 24, at 7:30 p.m., at Town Hall.

The companies sued Philipstown in February 2018 in U.S. District Court for Southern New York after the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and Conservation Board denied permits for construction of a 140-to-180-foot cell tower on a Vineyard Road property near the intersection of Routes 9 and 301. The ZBA cited a lack of need for the tower and found it conflicted with town zoning code and threatened Philipstown’s scenic and rural character as well as property values. In suing, the companies alleged the town violated federal law.

At a routine ZBA meeting on Monday (July 8), Chairperson Robert Dee recalled that his board had “held seven months of public meetings” before rejecting the tower in January 2018. “We listened to countless hours of testimony from attorneys, experts, residents. There were five balloon tests [and] thousands of pages of documents. Then we came to a decision, which I believe is the correct one.”

After the lawsuit was filed, the Town Board and Homeland Towers-Verizon negotiated a settlement — which would have kept the case out of court — with a vote to approve the settlement initially scheduled for June 26. When opposition arose that night, the board postponed action.

Shortly before the July 3 follow-up session, the town released revised settlement text, which, according to Supervisor Richard Shea, reflects residents’ suggestions. Nonetheless, on July 3 some residents again objected to the terms and asked for a new balloon test after trees shed their leaves later this year. (Balloon tests project the height of a tower.)

Campanelli also asserted that he had expected Rodriguez to call him to confer on the settlement, but “I didn’t get one phone call.” Conversely, board members recalled comments from Rodriguez about not being able to reach Campanelli. With the July Fourth holiday looming, the board again scrapped its anticipated vote.

But Shea warned of judicial pressure to resolve the dispute. “When the judge tells you, ‘go work this out,’ ” the town “is in a crummy position” and faces risks from not settling, including the possibility of losing a trial, he said. “In my opinion, this is the best settlement we can get.”

“My concern is that the judge is for it,” Town Board Member John Van Tassel added.

The July 3 settlement provides that:

  • The tower, disguised to resemble a pine tree, would be 120 feet tall, 60 feet shorter than Homeland Towers-Verizon first planned and 20 feet shorter than a compromise the companies later suggested.
  • The companies would “forever waive and relinquish any rights … to raise — or apply to raise — the height.”
  • An 8-foot cedar privacy fence would surround the tower and vegetation would help screen it.
  • The companies would provide $20,000 to help neighbors landscape their yards but those using it would waive future claims against the tower.
  • Lights at the tower would be fixed to project downward and use motion detectors and an automatic shut-off.
  • Emergency services could install three antennas on the tower at no charge.
  • The cell companies would submit an application for the 120-foot tower within 60 days of the court’s acceptance of the settlement.

After receiving the application, the town would issue a building permit within 15 days.

Campanelli and the residents who hired him remained unconvinced. “This matter should be judged on the merits,” Campanelli told the Town Board on July 3. “Your job is to enforce the [zoning] code. You should stick to your [2018] decision” in backing the ZBA and Conservation Board denials.

Resident Steve Sterling argued that, as a town, “we don’t have anything more to lose by going to court. Reject this settlement. Go to court.”

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