Discussions continue in Nelsonville, Philipstown
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Philipstown’s ongoing debate over placement of new cell phone towers this month generated:
- Pledges from Philipstown to help Nelsonville oppose a proposed tower above the Cold Spring Cemetery,
- Differences over whether town officials rebuffed attempts to put a tower at the highway garage,
- Agreement between town officials and tower developers to reconsider the old landfill as a site,
- Criticism by a lawyer from Homeland Towers, the tower developer, that demands by the fire department were “an insult.”
The Philipstown Town Board became entangled in the Nelsonville tower debate at its Sept. 7 meeting when Frances O’Neill asked that board members “act quickly to support opposition to the desecration of our historic and beautiful cemetery.” The spouse of Nelsonville Mayor Bill O’Neill, she chairs a grassroots group called the Save the Cold Spring Cemetery Committee.
The 110-foot tower, proposed for Rockledge Road, overlooking the cemetery, is being reviewed by Nelsonville village committees.
Although the tower does not fall under the Philipstown board’s direct jurisdiction, O’Neill asked board members to contact Homeland Towers about installing the structure at the Philipstown highway garage at 50 Fishkill Road in Nelsonville.
In her presentation, O’Neill cited Homeland Towers’ claims it pursued use of the garage property for a cell tower but was ignored by town officials.
“That is patently untrue,” Supervisor Richard Shea responded.
Shea said that he had met with Homeland Towers this past summer about placement of a tower at the town’s former landfill on Lane Gate Road.
At the time, he said, neither the Nelsonville tower nor the highway garage were mentioned, which he termed “curious” and “peculiar.” Councilors John Van Tassel and Nancy Montgomery also said the Town Board and tower representatives never discussed the garage as a location.
The dispute may be the result of mistaken identity.
In 2014, negotiations between the Town Board and Homeland Towers to locate a tower at the former landfill ended when neighbors objected. This summer, Vincent Xavier, Homeland Towers regional manager, told Nelsonville officials he had contacted Shea in late 2014 and early 2015 about using the “town DPW [Department of Public Works, a.k.a. the highway department] at 50 Fishkill Road” for a tower but met with “unresponsiveness.”
On Sept. 11, addressing the Philipstown Zoning Board of Appeals, Robert Gaudioso, a Homeland Towers attorney, said he had spoken several weeks earlier with town officials about the landfill site and, “on a very preliminary basis,” about the highway department headquarters on Fishkill Road.
Shea attended the ZBA meeting and when Robert Dee, the chairperson, asked if the Town Board was interested in using the landfill, he replied, “Yes.”
However, Gaudioso said the landfill would not work “from a coverage standpoint.”
“I can’t believe some accommodation couldn’t be made there,” Shea said.
“It doesn’t work from an engineering standpoint,” Gaudioso said.
Nevertheless, he and Shea agreed engineers should evaluate the landfill to see if it contains a suitable tract — not necessarily the one considered in 2014.
Income and legal action
In her Sept. 7 remarks to the Philipstown Town Board, Frances O’Neill said that putting a tower on town-owned property could produce $60,000 in annual rent.
Shea recalled that in 2014, the revenue from leasing land for a tower was said to be $1,600 a month, or $19,200 annually. But he added that even $60,000 a month would be insufficient if a tower placement was unsuitable, adding that the town was willing to go to court, if necessary, to block construction of an objectionable tower.
He also questioned the need for more towers. “One of the failings of these tower companies when they approach us is to give documentation that proves there’s a need,” he said. “These are huge moneymakers. This is just a for-profit enterprise they bring into the community; they mar the landscape and move on.”
Besides, he said, other technological options exist. Board members suggested the latter include signal repeaters, which, Councilor Bob Flaherty noted, “they have all over Manhattan,” as well as antennas in church spires.
The Rev. Tim Greco, pastor of the Church on the Hill, told the Town Board he “would be more than happy” to put an antenna in its steeple but that Homeland Towers lawyers had not responded to his inquiries.
In any case, Shea said, placing a tower above the cemetery “is a non-starter. It’s abhorrent, a terrible idea. We would support fully the effort to block this.”
Bill O’Neill, Nelsonville’s mayor, said on Sept. 9 that he and Shea had agreed to work together “to find a more suitable site.”
At the same time, a second tower, proposed by Homeland Towers for Vineyard Road, off Route 9, is under review by the Philipstown Zoning Board of Appeals and its Conservation Board.
During scrutiny of the company’s plans by the Zoning Board, questions arose about safety. As part of its voluminous application, Homeland Towers submitted assurances from an engineer, James Caris, that the tower, a hollow “monopole,” would not likely catch fire, except perhaps in unusual cases of a construction incident, such as a welding mishap, or a lightning strike. He wrote that Homeland Towers would construct a 260-foot-long driveway wide enough for emergency vehicles.
Dee, the ZBA chair, said the North Highlands Fire Department, which would respond to calls, wanted a wider driveway, a surface strong enough to support equipment that weighs at least 75,000 pounds, a shed at the site to store equipment, and radio equipment for first responders provided on the tower at no cost.
If Homeland Towers meets those criteria, the fire department said, it would not oppose the tower, although it believes the landfill site is the better option.
“We have no problem working with emergency services, but, quite frankly, this letter is an insult,” Gaudioso said.
The ZBA nonetheless voted 4-1 to add the fire department demands to the criteria Homeland Towers must meet to obtain a special-use permit.
Homeland Towers also must have the approval of the Conservation Board, which met on Sept. 12, because a small portion of the site involves wetlands. At that meeting, neighbors raised questions about pipes protruding from the soil at the site and the effect of high winds.
“We are known to live in a high-velocity wind area,” Roger Gorevic, who lives near the site, told the board. “Hurricane Irma has shown us that tall structures can be brought down.” He warned that if the tower fell it would block access to the mountain, or escape by residents.