Sunday, December 8, 2013
STARKS — Residents near a proposed cellphone tower that the Planning Board approved are appealing the decision, citing more than a dozen reasons.
In this file photo from July 15, abutting landowners, from left, Elizabeth Smedberg and Harry and Cindy Brown, were expressing their concern about a proposed cellphone tower on Abijah Hill Road in Starks.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Cindy and Harry Brown, residents of Abijah Hill Road whose property abuts the proposed tower site, oppose the board’s decision primarily because of the tower’s visual effect on their land and because they think the board didn’t make enough of an effort to look into alternative locations, according to a letter written by their lawyer, Barbara Chassie, and attached to the appeal.
The Browns, who didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday, have opposed the construction of a cellphone tower at a site about 700 feet from their home since they were notified of an application submitted by Massachusetts-based Bay Communications II LLC in June.
The building application for the tower was approved Sept. 4.
The proposed tower has drawn significant controversy in Starks, mostly from the Browns, but also from other residents of Abijah Hill Road, including Harry Brown’s daughter, Elizabeth Smedberg.
Most recently, Cindy Brown was summoned by the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department on an assault charge after she allegedly spit into the face of First Selectman Paul Frederic.
“The Browns most strenuously object to the severe visual impact of this commercial use on the residential use of their home and the utter lack of any efforts on the part of the board to mitigate or eliminate this impact,” Chassie wrote as part of the appeal filed with the town on Monday. Review of the appeal will begin Thursday, but it could take longer for a decision to be made, according to Appeals Board Chairman George Martikke. He said the board is required to begin the review process within 30 days of when the appeal is filed.
“There are a lot of issues to consider, and because this decision has become so important, we want to take our time in reviewing everything,” Martikke said.
The appeal first states that the application by Bay Communications was incomplete, so the Planning Board should not have accepted it.
According to the letter, Bay Communications submitted a required assessment from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife almost two months after the original application was made, and the board accepted the document late. Chassie says in her letter that this “crucial document” was not available to the public during the public hearing on the tower in July.
She also blamed the board for excusing the applicant from submitting an assessment of groundwater impact, which is a required part of the site plan review ordinance. According to the application submitted by Bay Communications, the site does not propose any water facilities and would not affect groundwater.
The appeal also claimed the board did not assess adequately the effect of service workers traveling on Abijah Hill Road when it is muddy and failed to assess the effect on natural resources.
In addition, the appeal alleges bias in the review process, says the board rushed through its review of the application and claims there was inadequate opportunity for opponents to prepare and present their objections.
Chassie’s letter states that the board failed to give adequate written notice of the application to abutters, given that it was sent just several days before a public hearing was scheduled.
The appeal also objects to the tower’s approval on grounds that the Board of Selectmen were allowed to influence the process.
It states that the Planning Board didn’t consider the tower’s effect on property values or health.
According to federal law, health effects cannot be taken into consideration when decisions on telecommunications developments are made.
Finally, the appeal states that the board and the applicant did not give adequate consideration to alternate locations and setups for the tower.
Planning Board Chairman Kerry Hebert could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Brown is scheduled to appear Nov. 13 in Somerset County Superior Court. Frederic said the selectmen, who were considering reporting Smedberg to the sheriff’s department after she allegedly defaced a town map during a Planning Board meeting related to the tower issue, have decided to not seek charges.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368