Over a year ago, when COVID-19 led to an influx of full-time residents in Sag Harbor, village officials scrambled to improve cellular service, which by all accounts suffered considerably as more people competed for limited bandwidth.
The board approved the placement of a cell antenna in the cupola of the Municipal Building and began looking at the village impound lot next to the Sag Harbor Transfer Station as the site of another antenna. As a short-term fix, it approved WLNG radio’s request to allow Verizon to bring in a portable cellular antenna called a COW — for cell on wheels — to boost coverage in the village. Station owner Bill Evans said the COW would remain in place until it came time for the station to rebuild its 165-foot lattice tower with a new one that would carry a handful of cellular antennas besides the station’s antenna.
It appears that time is now. In July, the Amato Law Group of Garden City filed an application to replace the station’s aging tower with what it calls “a transparent concealment flagpole” of the same height on which Verizon would install eight antennas, ATT six others, and WLNG a single antenna for radio transmissions. According to the application, the new tower would have space for three additional antennas. All the antennas would be contained in concealed compartments within the monopole.
For now, though, it seems the application has entered a dead zone. Mr. Evans did not return calls seeking comment this week, and Kerry Fisher, an attorney with the Amato Group, said she would forward a reporter’s request for information to Verizon for comment. The company did not respond by this edition’s deadline. Even a group of neighbors, who have banded together to fight the application and launched the website, sagharborcelltower.com, have remained silent.
The website, which includes a number of photographs of nearby cell towers, heavily laden with antennas, asks the question, “Does a cell tower belong in a historic residential neighborhood?” and then proceeds to cite a long list of reasons of why it does not, from its location in wetlands, the visual blight it will impose on the surrounding area, and concerns that equipment erected on the site with the tower will amount to “a massive telecommunications compound.”
A member of the neighbors group, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the group had been advised by an attorney it hired to not comment on the proposal.
Before it can be built, the tower would have to obtain a number of approvals, from the Harbor Committee, the Planning Board, and even the Village Board itself, which would be called on to consider issuing a special exception permit for the project.
Even village officials had little to say. Trustee Thomas Gardella, who last year cited his concern that the poor cell service in the village could hinder emergency responses after he had a difficult time making a 911 call to report an automobile accident, said he would not comment on an active application before the village.
Mayor Jim Larocca also declined to comment, although he added WLNG was once again seeking permission, which would be addressed at Tuesday’s board meeting, to set up a new COW on its property after the last unit was pulled out for the U.S. Open tennis tournament and shortly before Hurricane Henri approached Long Island.
On Tuesday, the board tabled that application, but the mayor let be known that he was upset that Verizon had removed the original COW before Henri hit because part of the board’s rationale for allowing its placement in the first place was to provide additional capacity in the event of an emergency, such as a hurricane.
Trustee Aidan Corish said he believed the new antenna in the Municipal Building cupola was paying dividends because his own service had improved since it went online earlier this summer. Like, other board members, he said he could not comment on the current application but would only say the Village Board would try “to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people” when it came to siting cell towers.