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Author Topic: Cell Tower on Kelley Road Decision upcoming  (Read 1172 times)
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« on: March 07, 2007, 11:19:40 PM »

From the Londonderry Times:

ZBA Sets March Target for Kelley Road Decision
John Robinson
Londonderry Times

Mark Officer, the now-former chair of Londonderry’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA), says the board expects to decide in March whether to approve adjustments that wireless telephone provider T-Mobile would need to build a cell phone tower on Kelley Road.

But whichever way the board rules, its almost certain that one of the longest-running shows in town will run a little while longer.

“With any controversial decision, there’s a chance that it will go to court because somebody’s dissatisfied,” said Officer.

Londonderry resident Ryder Daniels, whose Kelley Street home and yard adjoins the lot where the tower is proposed to be built, said that litigation is almost a certainty. Last week he told the Londonderry Times that attorneys for Omnipoint Communications, the parent company of T-Mobile, told him at last week’s meeting that they were very likely to go to court if the ZBA rules against them.

“I asked their outside counsel if they would appeal, and he said yes and he was very confident they would win,” said Daniels. “I think that’s more of a posturing issue because of the case law.”

If the ZBA turns down Ominpoint’s request, the company could take the town to court. Daniels added that he and other neighbors on Kelley Road are also likely to go to court if the ZBA grants the variances, despite the obstacles faced by a few individuals taking on a deep-pocketed corporation.

“Clearly what we’re saying is we’re going to be in big trouble if we have to appeal, and clearly we’re going to appeal,” said Daniels.

The issue as Omnipoint has presented it to the ZBA is that that they have a big gap in their cell phone coverage, and the best way to fill it is by building a tower on the Beal property on Kelley Road. That site has the benefit of being on top of a hill in the middle of the gap, making it very good for getting radio signals into Londonderry’s varying topology.

From the neighbors’ perspective, the issue is that the tower would be right in the middle of their neighborhood. The Daniels family has been a leading opponent because the tower would be about 300 feet from their house, and the original plans called for the access road to run right along their property line – and as it turns out, just outside their dining room window.

“T-Mobile has said verbally that they are now going to locate the road on the other side of the Beal property,” Daniels said. “That would inconvenience me less and our neighbors more.”

Aside from simply standing there, anywhere from 120 to 170 feet high, the tower would also have a light at its top to keep airplanes from hitting it. Just how much that light would illuminate the area below is not exactly clear. Daniels also said the equipment shed at the base of the tower, where the radio equipment would be located, will also require noise-producing air conditioners.

Ironically, that’s just what the Daniels family moved to Londonderry to escape. They relocated from New York City to a quiet cul-de-sac on a New Hampshire hill specifically for the rural peace and quiet. To find that idyllic lifestyle threatened just three years later has been a significant psychological blow to Ryder, wife Deborah, and children aged 3 and 1.

“It’s definitely been pretty emotional,” Ryder Daniels said.

In addition to the lifestyle impact, Daniels said, there is also a financial hit in the balance. Local Realtors have told him that the value of his home would likely decrease by 20% if a cell tower was built next to it. Other neighbors, he said, have been told to expect a 15% decline for their homes.

From the ZBA’s perspective, the issue seems less about whether the tower will impact value of homes in the neighborhood as proving it. “The key thing we’re coming up against is the property value argument,” Officer said. “Some information says there’s no impact, and other says it has a significant impact. The only common thing is there’s no good data backing either side.”

But determining what impact the tower would have on nearby property values, if any, is only part of the equation that the ZBA must resolve. In determining whether to allow a cell tower to be built in a residentially-zoned neighborhood, which is currently forbidden by town ordinances, the board also has to weigh whether an alternative solution for T-Mobile would be economically feasible for the company. Londonderry’s zoning ordinances allow for variances if there’s no viable alternative to the new use of the land. Further, federal laws prohibit towns from erecting unreasonable difficulties to providers of cell phone service. Just what’s unreasonable, viable, or feasible is not clearly spelled out.

As an example, Officer said, there are other ways for T-Mobile to fill its coverage gap on Mammoth Road, but none of them are quite as simple as building one tower on Kelley Road. “There’s always resolutions if enough money is thrown at it,” Officer said. “In all these things it becomes a subjective opinion as to what becomes reasonable to the applicant. If it requires five towers as opposed to one, it has a significantly higher cost, but then is it advantageous to all Londonderry residents to have five towers as opposed to one? Then again, what about the impact to local residents who abut the tower or are close abutters?”

“I don’t know what all the options are,” said Daniels. “They may be more expensive, but that shouldn’t be the indicator. They said they wanted to cover Mammoth Road, but when you show them that some of the alternatives do that better, they say they are not as good on High Range. What is this, one tower to rule the world?”

The ZBA meets again on March 21. Officer said he had set that meeting as a target date for acting on the case, but not necessarily a “mandate.” He said he was hoping both sides could get all their information into the board or its outside consultant by then.

“It’s a balancing act,” Officer explained. “I felt it was time to set a target because I want to move this along in fairness to the residents, but have to do our due diligence and go through this process.”

Glenn Douglas
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