Gilford boards learn cell tower issue is quite complicated

GILFORD — The Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) and Planning Board, meeting jointly last night, decided to continue consideration of a proposal to erect a cell tower at the foot of David Lewis Road that has aroused the ire of several nearby property owners.
According to federal law, the ZBA has another 150 days to grant the special exception the project requires. To grant a special exception the ZBA must find, among other things, that the cell tower will not have a detrimental impact or pose a nuisance to the neighborhood.

John Morgenstern, chairman of the Planning Board, said that the board was treating the meeting as an informational opportunity in advance of holding its first public hearing on the proposal in January.
New Cingular Wireless PCS, doing business as AT&T, and American Tower Corporation, LLC, the construction manager, have applied to erect a 100-foot monopole tower with 12 antennas on the southeast corner of a 148-acre tract owned by the Traditional Catholics of New Hampshire, most of which is a farm worked by Armand and Ernie Bolduc, who raise buffalo and tap maples on the property.

The tower would be topped by a beacon specified by the Federal Aviation Administration to alert aircraft The site would include an equipment shelter, 12-feet by 20-feet, and emergency diesel generator within a 50-square compound surrounded by chain link fence six-feet high and topped with barbed wire. A 12-foot driveway leading from the southwest corner of David Lewis Road would provide access to the tower.
The tower would stand 100 feet from the property line of two adjoining lots, one a house lot at 38 David Lewis Road owned by Kevin Lacasse and the other a vacant 5.27-acre parcel reached from Stark Street owned by Roger Baron. Although the tower would not be as close to the home of Charles and Winifred Hughes at 48 David Lewis Road, the slope of the land would make it very visible from much of their property. Moreover, to reach the tower a 12-foot wide road would be built within a 50-foot right-of-way from David Lewis Road adjacent to their property line.
Will Dodge, an attorney representing AT&T, explained that the tower is intended to expand voice and data coverage in the immediate area by reducing the extent of zones where coverage is frequently intermittent or altogether lacking. He claimed that set in a wooded area the tower would be visible from only a few locations and would not be seen from public roads. Radio frequency emissions, Dodge said, would be "well, well below" the recommended threshold to ensure public safety.
Neither Baron nor Lacasse were persuaded. Calling the tower "very offensive," Baron said "there is no doubt in my mind that it will devalue my property." He told the boards that an appraiser could not measure the precise impact because she could not find comparable circumstances where a cell tower was erected so close to a residential neighborhood. Baron also presented photographs of cell towers that caught fire, asking how the Gilford Fire-Rescue Department would deal with a 100-foot tower ablaze.
Lacasse said that the tower would reach at least 30 feet above the tree line, dismissing claims that the trees would screen the structure from view. Apart from occasional noise when it was running, the generator he said would emit exhaust fumes on to his property. He also expected that the tower would become a target for vandalism and attract "all kinds of riff-raff." He urged the board to "come to the defense of the little people in Gilford" by rejecting the proposal and "have them look for another location."
Steve Nix, acting as chairman of the ZBA, sought clarification of the relationship between local land use ordinances and the federal telecommunications law, which stipulates that zoning ordinances cannot be used to prohibit telecommunication service. Dodge said that AT&T has equipment on other towers in the area, but cannot provide the coverage it needs without the proposed tower. He said that the federal law provides that each provider of cellular service is entitled to fill in the gaps in its coverage, not simply to ensure that competing providers together provide adequate service to a given area.
The ZBA will return to the proposal when it meets in January.