Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Town Hangs Up On Wireless

An Act To End The Proliferation Of Cell Towers In Hempstead Town

Pre-emption. The word the wireless providers hung over our heads as they planted their cellular towers, at will, in front yards, shopping center parking lots, adjacent to school buildings and abutting residential properties.

Thinly veiled as massive flagpoles and mutant pine trees, the attempted masquerade of the cell towers fooled absolutely no one.

Better service? Not really. The right to place a 300 foot pole anywhere the cellular companies want to? Not anymore!

The new regs adopted by the Hempstead Town Board are not perfect, and, in all likelihood, will be challenged in court and fought in the trenches before the Town's Zoning Board. Still, the rules are a tremendous leap forward, and a definite challenge to the "all and powerful" telecommunications industry, which heretofore had the only say in where their aesthetically displeasing and potentially harmful cell towers and antennae could go.

Residents were outraged. Community advocates were stymied and frustrated. Town of Hempstead officials took note, and, yes, have acted in the best interest of the people they were elected to serve.

Town Supervisor Kate Murray often talks of "maintaing the character of our suburban community." In leading the charge to enact this legislation, Ms. Murray has given moment to the cause.

- - -
Hempstead Town Approves Tough New Law to Regulate Cell Towers

Leading the way for other municipalities, Hempstead Town has passed tough new legislation that regulates where cell antennae and other wireless telecommunications equipment may be placed within the township. The law establishes a very high standard of proof for cellular service providers in establishing the need for new cell towers and also ensures that approved wireless communications equipment is located at sites that minimize negative impacts on local communities.

“This new law gives residents real power in the decision making process on cell tower placement,” said Supervisor Kate Murray. “It will also offer real protection against the siting of cell towers and antennae in locations that would adversely impact home values or the character of local neighborhoods.”

Along with the new town ordinance, Hempstead Town has retained nationally renowned wireless telecommunications expert Richard Comi to review applications and provide objective testimony on wireless telecommunication applications that come before the Hempstead Board of Appeals.

“Wireless communication providers will have to submit compelling evidence to prove an absolute need for new wireless equipment, and the town’s expert will give residents a voice with the same technical knowledge as the consultants hired by the telecommunications industry,” stated Murray. “Mr. Comi will make certain that cell companies provide accurate technical information to the town Board of Appeals,” added Hempstead Town Senior Councilman Anthony Santino.

The town’s proposal authorizes Hempstead to retain consultants like Mr. Comi to review and analyze the applications of wireless service providers. Further, the new legislation outlines documentation that applicants must provide as evidence in establishing an absolute need for the proposed wireless equipment. Among the required documentation are drive test or call test results that demonstrate gaps in service as well as a checklist to determine whether existing locations have been excluded from consideration. Maps detailing all structures within 1500 feet of a proposed location are also mandated.

A key goal of the town’s proposed law is to encourage shared use or co-location of new antennae onto existing cell towers or other structures while discouraging the unnecessary construction of new towers. In support of that priority, applicants for new cell towers must furnish a written report to the town detailing meaningful efforts to co-locate. Cell companies requesting a new tower must also conduct widely advertised balloon tests which offer the public a representation of the visual impact of a newly proposed tower utilizing a large, brightly colored balloon at the proposed tower site. Written reports, replete with pictorial representations of the proposed tower, must also be produced as well as a thorough discussion of steps the applicant would take to effectively minimize the visual intrusion of wireless structures as much as possible.

“It’s critical that we work to minimize the number of cell towers in local communities,” observed Councilwoman Angie Cullin. “As a result of this legislation, residents will receive more detailed information, making it possible for them to have a greater say than ever before at public cell tower hearings,” stated Councilman Gary Hudes.

Establishing a priority agenda, outlining the town’s preferences in the siting of wireless telecommunications equipment, is an important component of Hempstead’s planned law. First priority would recommend co-locating equipment on existing structures on town-owned and other public property. The second most preferred option would be the co-location of equipment on other existing structures (towers) in the town. The third priority would be a new tower located on town-owned or other public properties. Other preferred options (in order of priority) include a new tower on industrial-zoned land, light manufacturing areas, or other non-residential areas within the town. The least preferred option would be the location of a new tower on residentially zoned land.

“Putting forth a clearly defined priority list for the locating of wireless equipment will help promote its placement in areas that present the least impact on residential communities,” stated Councilman James Darcy.

Other highlights of the new legislation include the following:

§ No new cell towers or antennae shall be located closer than 1500 feet to a residential home, house of worship, daycare center or school.

§ Applicants proposing new cell towers must provide a report inventorying existing towers and other suitable structures within 2 miles of a proposed cell tower site.

§ In justifying a request for a cell tower of any height, data must be provided to document the effectiveness of a tower at a lower total height at the same location.

“The town’s new wireless telecommunications law addresses the concerns of neighbors in a comprehensive and thoughtful manner,” stated Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby. “This law levels the playing field and gives residents the resources necessary to fight proposals that will negatively impact neighborhoods,” announced Councilman Ed Ambrosino.

The town’s new proposed wireless communications law will also codify guidelines that support oversight in the placement of other wireless communications equipment to be installed within Hempstead Town.

“Hempstead Town will now have the most aggressive tools at its disposal in dealing with telecommunications giants,” concluded Murray. “A new telecommunications law and the testimony of a telecommunications expert at public wireless communications hearings will protect residents and give them greater voice in preserving the suburban character of our communities.” 

1 comment:

  1. I think the way this law is written borders on the absurd. I'm not saying that there shouldn't be a way to REASONABLY regulate the placement of cell towers, but this legislation creates a serious burden when it comes to building out the town's infrastructure, which clearly seems intended to stop further building completely. There are numerous problems here:

    - first, as noted above, this law will likely suffer judicial challenges that I would bet will culminate in the need to re-write whole portions of it.

    - since the law requires telecommunications providers to seek Town approval, once again the Town will be in the position of mediating among priorities that will inevitably require a balancing act between economic development versus the preservation of our "suburban way of life." Their track record when it comes to striking this balance appropriately is not promising.

    - similarly, both the law and the Town's track record when it comes to zoning issues, lead one to conclude that if nothing else, decisions will be rendered only on a protracted schedule.

    - the law conveniently skirts the issue, but it's clear that it is emerging out of a misplaced and unproven premise that this technology somehow creates a health risk.

    - left unstated in all this is what becomes of the hundreds of towers that are already installed around schools, houses or worship and residential areas, to say nothing of government buildings, fast food joints, etc. Too late to do anything about those guys, I guess, and for those who are somehow thinking there are health hazards to be worried about beware.

    - the law conveniently allows the Town to ignore its own law, I guess so that Town employees can continue to use some cool-looking equipment payed for by Town taxpayers.

    Directionally, I don't see what happened here as being all that different from what took place with regard to the Lighthouse project: it's the Town creating yet another roadblock to initiatives that could actually help promote economic growth. As the next generation of wireless technology unfolds, as it surely will, Town of Hempstead residents can now be assured that they will be left behind.

    Finally, while I'm on this rant, consider this: a hundred years ago or more, people considered utility poles to be unacceptable - some considered them health hazards - and there were community voices that wanted them to be removed. Sound familar? Rather than just stopping at cell phone towers, should we now take down the utility poles as well? Is it time to find Grandpa's old kerosene lamp?