In addition to the usual applications for home additions, renovations, accessory apartments and parking permits at the Huntington Zoning Board of Appeals hearing Tuesday night was an unusual application from T-Mobile. The company is looking for permission to complete work on a 100 foot cell phone monopole tower in Huntington Station. The tower has been erected, but not finished. The Town of Huntington issued a stop-work order because T-Mobile never notified, let alone approved, construction of the tower with the Town Zoning Board. According to residents in the area, the work was begun in the early winter of 2010 and continued even after the stop-work order was issued in January. An attorney for T-Mobile, Robert Gaudioso, says that according to NY State law when a municipality owns a property (in this case the South Huntington Water district), it is exempt from having to gain permission from the Zoning Board. In effect, Gaudioso argued that the town’s zoning laws apply to everyone but the town. Gaudioso did concede that if it is determined that Zoning Board approval is a requirement for the tower, three setback variances will be needed for the project.
T-Mobile commenced building the tower on a town-owned parcel currently occupied by a water tower surrounded by wetlands. The parcel abuts a six-acre lot that contains a large catch basin and more wetlands. Mr. Gaudioso explained that T-Mobile chose this as an ideal spot and after they leased the land from the commissioners of the water district, they intentionally tucked the tower into the far corner of the property to make it less visible to neighboring homes. When he was questioned by the zoning board about how a cell phone tower that has nothing to do with potable water, benefits a water district, his response was that it provides cell phone usage in an area that sometimes has sketchy coverage, which would leave residents vulnerable in time of emergency.
If variances are required, they are considerable including a 104 ft variance on the East side of the property to accommodate its fall zone. Mr Gaudioso argued that the setback rule was a technicality and was not intended to create a safe 150 ft fall zone. The zoning board agreed that the letter of the town code is not explicit, but said the spirit of the code is to keep residents safe from the possibility of the tower or something attached to it falling. Mr. Gaudioso then brought in experts to testify that the pole was built above the necessary standards, which ensures it is superb at repelling ice and wind and moreover, in the event of a collapse the tower is designed to fall in upon itself rather than falling over like a giant, slow motion rat trap. Gaudioso also brought in local attorney John Breslin who referenced numerous studies declaring that a cell phone tower would have no negative impact on home values in the area.
Rather than a welcome wagon, the tower’s new neighbors hired attorney Andrew J. Campanelli to argue against the completion of the monopole. Right off the bat Mr. Campanelli pointed out that the lease between T-Mobile and the South Huntington Water District commissioners is invalid. Campanelli says according to the law, the Town Board is the only authority that can lease property in the water district. In addition, any property leased in excess of $1,000 requires a public hearing. T-Mobile never even looked into a valid lease with the town, he said. He also spoke about the likelihood that cement poured last winter, which was unusually cold, is weaker than it needs to be. Campanelli was referring to the cement that anchors the tower in the ground and says the structure may not be properly anchored because cement needs 28 days of above-freezing temperatures to cure properly. If the temperature of the cement fell below freezing last December or January , it is susceptible to weaknesses that imperil the structural integrity of the tower.
Not one resident spoke in favor of the cell phone tower. Many were emotional and had a lot to say against it. Lucille Goff said that she and other residents observed that that the work was done mostly at night. She asked the zoning board to “stick up for the little guy” in this case, the residents. Another resident was angry that the nighttime work began in earnest, between midnight and 4am, after the stop-work order was issued. They questioned the study of the impact the tower will have on property values claiming that it is a blight and an eye sore. Huntington neighborhoods with the highest home values; Lloyd Harbor and Huntington Bay, have the worst cell phone coverage, opposite what the home value studies say. Residents feel that the cell phone reception in the area is adequate without the addition of the monopole. Preservation of the wetlands was another consideration. One woman would like to see the fence taken down so she could once again walk around what she considers to be a beautiful piece of land with much wild life.
Mr Gaudioso answered these objections and explained that the DEC had rescinded its notice of violation to T-Mobile and will not pursue it. He also said that moving forward the DEC would be notified and any necessary permits and setbacks would be met. The pole he said, would be painted a camouflage brown, it has all of its wires hidden inside and is only 25 ft above the highest tree line nearby. In addition, it is being built to accommodate at least two more carriers if it is determined that more cell phone companies want to increase bandwidth in the neighborhood in the future
The Zoning Board denied T-Mobile’s request for variances citing Mr. Campanelli’s argument that the initial lease made with the water district is not legal. The Zoning Board also said they are not comfortable with the fall zone and safety issues. Hopefully T-Mobile has Mr. Gaudioso on an unlimited minutes plan because they have some catching up to do.