Zoning Appeals: No VFC cell tower

CAMBRIDGE — The crew of Neck District Volunteer Fire Company will have to keep looking for funding sources, after learning Thursday that they will not be allowed to place a new cell tower on their property – AT&T will get the job, at another site.


The Board of Appeals made the unanimous decision after hearing testimony from many citizens, who filled Room 110 of the County Office Building for the hearing. Members Cindy Smith, Lin Spicer, Charles Dayton and Pam Allen found no reason to deny the request of New Cingular Wireless, doing business as AT&T to place a 179-foot tower on wooded property near the intersection of Hudson Road and Heather Lane.


The VFC had wanted to place the structure on their own land, about three-quarters of a mile farther west, to bring in as much as $20,000 a year. It would also allow a cell signal that much farther into the neck, an aid to emergency response.


Homeowners in the area were not pleased at the prospect of a tower in sight of their properties, and said so.


“We believe there are better locations,” Chris Hauge said. “It will not be in harmony with the general neighborhood.”


The site in question is a 50×50-foot compound on 42 acres owned by Charles R. Fields Jr. The plan “meets all the setbacks,” Attorney Greg Rapisarda, representing AT&T, said. “There were no existing structures here.”


AT&T was requesting a special exception to build a new cellular transmission tower. The site is zoned Resource Conservation District.
Mike McKinley spoke on behalf of the fire company.


“Essentially, Casson Neck will be left uncovered,” as well as other areas, he said. “We want it in an appropriate location that will serve more areas west.”


A new structure will take part in the FirstNet system, created after the 9/11 attacks to improve inter-agency communications. AT&T was chosen as the vendor for FirstNet.


While for some residents aesthetics were the key, the emergency responders were also concerned with better connections. With cell coverage currently spotty at best, and even land lines unreliable, the firefighters are looking for reliable phones.


During Tropical Storm Isabel, “communications were cut off,” Mr. McKinley said. “I and others would like to see AT&T engineers do another study” for a location farther west.


“That fire department is the heart of the community,” VFC member Bobby Jones said. “The income mostly will come to our community, not to one individual.”


The board’s attorney, Walter Gunby, said zoning is a first-come, first-served situation. “We can’t hold up this applicant,” he said.


To Mr. Jones, who was sharing his views on the fire company, Mr. Gunby said, “We don’t need to hear any more about that.”


Tinsley Meekins Jr. also spoke to the board, indicating the concerns of the crowd filling the room to capacity, with some still in the hallway outside. “We have all these people here,” he said.


“Zoning is not a popularity contest,” Mr. Gunby said. “That’s why we can’t be swayed by a roomful of people.”


“The bottom line is, we follow the code,” Mr. Rapisarda said. “It fits the criteria, it’s presumed to be compatible.”


After more than an hour of testimony was heard – all in opposition to the request, except for Mr. Rapisarda – the board cleared the room so a closed-session discussion could take place.


When the public was allowed back in, the vote was held to grant the applicant’s request. As the room cleared afterwards, calls of “Shame, shame!” were heard, as well as, “We make a motion to remove you all from office!”

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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