Beacon Council Revises Wireless Laws

Also considers viewshed protection

The Beacon City Council on Tuesday (Feb. 16) combined two laws adopted in 2018 and 2019 into one all-encompassing ordinance regulating larger wireless telecommunications facilities and small-cell wireless units. 

The law revamps the processing of applications for both types and shifts their approval to the Planning Board.

The Planning Board would be required to hold public hearings for all non-small cell wireless proposals but hearings would be optional for small-cell units, the lower-powered antennas typically affixed to buildings or poles to fill gaps in broadband coverage. 

Wireless facilities will not be allowed in Beacon’s historic district unless the applicant demonstrates that a coverage gap or other service upgrade cannot be addressed outside of the district. Wherever possible, the law suggests that wireless facilities should be in the form of antennas attached to existing buildings or structures and/or should use a “stealth” design. Towers, it says, “shall be the structures of last resort.”

Viewsheds

The council on Tuesday held a brief public hearing on a proposal that would protect scenic viewsheds. The hearing will be continued on March 1. 

If adopted, the law would be the first step in protecting views in Beacon. A second law would follow, identifying protected viewsheds. 

The draft law designates scenic views as something — in many cases, an outstanding natural feature or landscape — that can be seen from a public street, property or sidewalk. The law, City Attorney Nick Ward-Willis explained, seeks to strike a balance between property owners’ rights and the rights of present and future generations to enjoy those scenic places.

Designated views will likely include locations where alteration would be most visible, such as at “gateway entrances” to the city, public parks or major intersections. Beacon’s Natural Resources Inventory last year identified three scenic areas worthy of protection: viewsheds of the Hudson River, Fishkill Creek and Fishkill Ridge/Mount Beacon. 

The Planning Board would have to consider protected viewsheds when reviewing development plans and, as a way of minimizing impacts to views, would be allowed to request alternate design options or modify zoning regulations with respect to site layout and lot design, as long as height and unit-count limits aren’t exceeded. 

Before continuing the public hearing, the council will discuss comments from the Planning Board, which last week suggested that viewshed protection should also apply to subdivision, special-use permit and variance applications. Otherwise, the board said, there could be too many exceptions to the viewshed protection law. 

Mental health worker

The council approved a one-year contract paying Mental Health America of Dutchess County $70,000 to provide a case management worker to the Beacon Police Department. 

The case manager will begin next month and work 35 hours per week. The council included money for the position in this year’s city budget after community members last summer suggested the police hire someone with a social work background to assist with calls involving a person in crisis or who may be experiencing mental health-related illnesses. 

The city will review the position and its effectiveness after a year. Council Member Amber Grant called the move “a good start,” although she suggested the position ultimately may not need to be so closely aligned with the Police Department. 

Sewer upgrade

The City Council approved a $10.2 million capital improvement plan for 2021. The majority of the money — more than $7 million — will be used to upgrade the city’s wastewater treatment plant and sewage collection system. 

The city will use $567,000 from its fund balance; it will use bonds to fund most of the remainder of the costs. A multi-year proposal for capital projects will be presented to the council later this year, City Administrator Chris White said. 

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