Sag Harbor’s Hopes For Improved Cell Service Suffer Setback

Verizon, which had planned to place a temporary cell antenna at the site of WLNG radio in Sag Harbor, has withdrawn those plans and will focus on rebuilding the station's transmisson tower instead. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

Sag Harbor Village’s effort to improve cell phone service will take a little longer than expected.

The village, which has already signed a contract that will allow Verizon to place antennas inside the cupola of the Municipal Building, was ready to sign off on the company’s proposal to place a temporary antenna in the parking lot of the WLNG radio station on Redwood Road. The temporary antenna, called a COW for “cell on wheels,” would actually be a pod-like structure that would be in place until the radio station’s transmission tower could be replaced or shored up to allow additional antennas to be mounted on it.

Village officials have said more cell antennas are needed because cell service is spotty at best in the business district, along the waterfront, and in surrounding neighborhoods.
But Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy said she had been advised by village attorneys that the board would have to hold a public hearing before allowing the temporary structure. Furthermore, she said she learned that the project would require a wetlands permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

In the meantime, the mayor told the board at Thursday’s monthly meeting, Verizon has decided it would prefer to put its energies into devising a plan for rebuilding the radio station’s transmission tower and would not proceed with plans for the temporary structure.

“If they do that, it does not come in front of us, that goes in front of the zoning board and also the Harbor Committee,” the mayor said of the larger project.

Trustee Tom Gardella said he recently tried to dial 911 to report a vehicular accident and wound up on the phone with the Southold Town Police Department before the call was dropped. He said it was urgent for the village to improve its cell service. Trustee Aidan Corish suggested the village could encourage Verizon to speed up work on the Municipal Building antenna, and Trustee James Larocca said, “This is not a good outcome. I feel we are missing an opportunity.”

Separately, Planning Board chairwoman Kay Lawson requested the Village Board consider amending its code to prevent or restrict the conversion of apartments in the business district into offices or other commercial spaces.

Village attorney Denise Schoen said such conversions are now permitted uses. Because commercial uses typically require more parking than a residential use, a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals is usually required, and the Planning Board’s only input is typically limited to opposing such a variance. “There really is no real method for them to say no,” she said.

Ms. Lawson said a long-range housing plan done by the village in 2007 concluded it was desirable to have apartments in the business district. She said that study dovetailed with another planning initiative that limited the number of offices that could occupy first-floor spaces.

“Just to put some color to that, you look at the village of Sag Harbor as a result of that planning and of that foresight and you compare it to other villages nearby and you see those villages have a lot of real estate offices, and not a lot of restaurants or shops,” she said. “It has preserved and enhanced the character and desirability of the village, which is why I think it is so popular right now.”

Board members said they would discuss the matter more fully when they hold a work session on Wednesday, July 22, and the mayor said the village is also preparing to undertake a study of long-range planning goals for the village waterfront.

The board also closed a hearing on updates to its waterways law that includes requiring boats that moor outside the village breakwater to sign in with the village harbormaster, rules regulating where seaplanes can land, and other updates. A final version of the update will be discussed and prepared for adoption as early as August.