Verizon Wireless’s proposal to construct a 153-foot cell tower, disguised to look like a tree, on Sag Harbor Village-owned property in the Long Pond Greenbelt drew a predictable response when it was aired before the Southampton Town Planning Board on December 9: Like most proposals for cell towers in the region, this one was largely panned.
Neighbors, environmentalists and members of the Planning Board expressed concern during the pre-submission conference about the height, appearance and proposed location of the tower — next to a recently constructed Village Police impound lot on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.
“All the fake branches in the world aren’t going to hide this thing,” said Jack Bartleme, who lives across the road. “It’s going to be an eyesore for everybody in the area.”
Bartleme blamed it on a case of NIMBYism. “Sag Harbor Village wants the benefit of better cellphone service, but Sag Harbor Village doesn’t want it in Sag Harbor Village,” he said, referring to strong opposition to a proposal for a new cell tower next to the WLNG radio station.
Barbara Bornstein, representing the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, stressed environmental concerns. She said the undisturbed site being considered for the tower and its associated equipment should be preserved because it is near a vernal pond and salamander habitat.
“Please take into consideration this is one of the more sensitive areas not only in the State of New York but the nation,” she said of the greenbelt.
Bornstein said she was concerned Sag Harbor continues to develop the 24 acres it owns, stretching from the Southampton Town recycling center to the impound lot. “There are alternative and more appropriate locations for the cell tower,” she said. “There is no further reason to desecrate the land.”
Dai Dayton, the president of the Friends, was unable to attend the hearing because of another commitment, but in an interview this week said she was disheartened the village is allowing Verizon to consider the site. “They don’t care about the greenbelt,” she said. “We believe the land should be preserved, not used as a dumping ground for all their new ideas.”
She said the village should consider selling the undeveloped land it owns to Southampton Town to be added to the greenbelt.
Eric Helman of the Amato Law Group in Garden City said the proposed tower would require a 17-square-foot-by-33-square-foot “equipment compound” for accessories such as an emergency propane-fueled generator, battery and equipment sheds. An additional 100-square-foot pad for propane tanks would also be constructed
“Verizon Wireless is currently experiencing substantial wireless service deficiencies in the area of the site,” he said as a reason it needs the new facility. The tower would have space for 12 antennas, some of which could be leased to other providers, he added.
Planning Board Vice Chairman Dennis Finnerty, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Chairwoman Jacqui Lofaro, asked about the height and appearance of the proposed tower, which would be two to three times as tall as the surrounding trees.
“The height exceeds the other facilities we have reviewed in the Bridgehampton area,” Finnerty said. He asked if the antennas would be concealed within the pole, but Helman said they would be covered by “branches” as part of what he described as a “stealth design.”
Finnerty pointed to a monopole that was erected on Foster Avenue behind the Bridgehampton train station. “We have found those poles to be more visually benign,” he said. “I don’t know that the tree concept is going to really work for us from a visual standpoint.”
Planning Board member Robin Long also expressed doubts about the fake tree idea. “Does it have to be a tree, that type of pole?” she asked. “Is there a reason you chose that?” Long also said the tower would be much taller than any others approved in the area.
She asked Helman if Verizon had considered alternative sites after it was revealed there is an existing tower at the Long Island Power Authority station across the road that is included in town maps of suitable sites for telecommunications equipment. Helman said Verizon would inquire about the LIPA property as part of its “due diligence.”
“This is very earliest juncture of the review,” Finnerty said in asking that the board adjourn the hearing and leave the record open for 30 days for written comments.