Neck District could get cell tower by fall

Submitted to Dorchester Banner/NDVFC
Members of the Neck District Volunteer Fire Company worked for more than a year to have the tower placed near their station.

NECK DISTRICT — In a dramatic turn-around, the Neck District Volunteer Fire Company has won approval from the County to build a cellular transmission tower near its fire station, opening the way to thousands of dollars in income, improved communication for first responders and reliable cell phone coverage for residents of the area.

Just a year after the county Department of Planning and Zoning’s Board of Appeals ruled against the fire company and in favor of a different location, on private land further east, Board member Charles Dayton, Jr., said at the meeting last Thursday, “It would be neglectful not to have this tower in the community.”

The wooded area where the cell tower would stand “will help mask the pole,” the tower “will bring value to the area and its residents, it will help with the economic development of the area, there will be no noise or odors and it will have a positive effect on the community’s ability to call for police, safety and fire protection,” the Board declared.

The fire company had met “all the criteria” and “there’s no reason not to approve,” the Board added, before declaring: “Approved!”

Remaining hurdle
The only remaining hurdle before construction of a 179-foot tall tower can begin is a hearing of the Board of Appeals, scheduled for March 20. If no one appeals the decision in favor of the fire company, the project can go ahead.

If that happens, Fire Company President Mike McKinley told The Banner, the fire company on March 23 “would start our wheels in motion for acquisition of the land” the tower will stand on, just behind the hut in the firefighters’ parking lot at 954 Cook’s Point Road, about 12 miles west of Cambridge.

The property slated for the project is owned by two people, he said at a meeting of about 50 Neck District residents on Feb. 17. One landowner has agreed to sell some of his land, while the other will donate a small piece. The acquisitions will go ahead, once the firefighters know for sure there will be no appeals.

“If all goes according to plan,” President McKinley said, Centerline Communications “will build in July and there’s a very good chance we’re going to get coverage by Christmas. It’d be a Christmas present,” he said, to applause, “All of the major carriers will be down here – Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, etc.”

Construction will take two to three months, representatives of Centerline said at the Board meeting. The tower will include a four-foot high lightening rod. Trees will help hide the 75 by 75 foot base. Once built, the structure will be unmanned and maintenance will be carried out every month or two, they said.

“It will allow for stellar, reliable communications,” Centerline’s attorney, Sean Patrick Hughes, told the meeting. “Seventy percent of emergency calls are now made on cell phones. Over 50 percent of people only have cell phones now. This tower will allow for residents to have cells or landlines.”

Mike McKinley said he had responded to an emergency call “Monday evening and I couldn’t get a call out. I couldn’t get a text out. We are in dire need. My guess is everybody here is in favor of it,” he added, indicating the several dozen Neck residents who attended the Board meeting.

Having the tower would also enable the firefighters to access the FirstNet system, created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks so emergency responders and public safety agencies could exchange information more quickly and make faster, better decisions.

“Everybody in the Neck is thrilled” at the prospect of having the tower, Mr. McKinley said, adding that even the people living opposite the fire house and in view of the tower site were delighted.

Long campaign
The fire company president has been campaigning since 2017 to get a cell tower and bring the Neck District’s “1950s-standard communications into the 21st century,” as he put it. “It’s like giving birth to an elephant,” he quipped. He’s spent almost 20 hours a week on the project, in addition to running his own business and responding to emergencies, he told The Banner.

Almost a year ago, the Board of Appeals unanimously denied the firefighters’ request to have the tower erected by the fire station. Instead, they gave New Cingular Wireless and AT&T the go-ahead to build it on land near the intersection of Hudson Road and Heather Lane. AT&T had asked for a special exception to erect a tower there, because the site is zoned as a Resource Conservation District.

Neck District fire fighters argued that locating the tower there would leave areas further west uncovered. They also contended that income from the tower, if built on fire station property, would benefit the community rather than a single individual.

So, the fire company hired a lawyer and, last April, appealed the Board’s decision. In June, they got a “text amendment to say we could build [on fire company property] if we could find someone to build it.” Then, “In October, after AT&T learned our attorney had a pretty strong case, they sent us a letter saying we were now the official site,” Mr. McKinley said.

He said Verizon had signed a letter of intent and “all of the major carriers will be down here – Sprint, Verizon, etc.” The cell companies will pay rent to the station, which will, at that point own, the land the tower stand on.