Passionate opposition suddenly erupted on Tuesday against what had been a quietly evolving effort to consider putting a cell tower on village-owned land in the woods south of Stock Farm Lane in North Haven, when the Village Board of Trustees conducted its regular monthly Zoom meeting on February 16.
Two days after the meeting, Mayor Jeff Sander declared the project dead in an email that was circulated publicly Thursday morning.
The Board of Trustees “has decided not to further investigate a cell tower as a solution to improve cell service in North Haven at this time.” He added it was “unfortunate” that the three-person village committee that was researching the possibility of a tower installation “was not able to get to the phase of soliciting public input from all residents in North Haven with a factual and well-informed recommendation to improve cell service in our community.”
“I will just say we would never have bought our home had we known that you were planning to do this,” said new resident Suzanne Karkus at Tuesday’s Zoom session, one of about a dozen who spoke out against a tower. “We are devastated, horrified, and my husband says he wants to move … All I can say is this is destroying our dreams.”
Speakers raised fears that electromagnetic radiation will cause illness and undermine property values. Real estate lawyer Monica Caan, a neighbor of Ms. Karkus, said she would hire an attorney and experts and spare no expense to mount a legal offensive against the plan. Some said evolving technology will soon make cell towers obsolete and that using home wifi to make calls already resolves local reception problems.
“If you’re not going to vote for a cell tower in your backyard, then you shouldn’t be doing it in somebody else’s,” said Jessica Von Hagn, president of the North Haven Village Improvement Society, who helped spearhead the recent drive to upgrade the playground at Village Hall, not far from the wooded tower site that she said would require 2,500 square feet of clearing.
Chris Remkus asked “why not put it in the Esplanade,” an open parcel on the waterfront in North Haven Manor, where cell reception is poor. He called it “a slap in the face we haven’t been hearing about this.”
Carl Bernstein remembered that the topic of poor cell service in North Haven came up during last fall’s local political campaign, when candidates Terie Diat and Chris Fiore were vying for a trustee seat; he said he had agreed then that it was “good to explore” the issue, “but it seems that this project has gone quite far along without residents understanding this process was underway.”
Elected in September, Ms. Diat noted that the Sag Harbor Express regularly reports, in print and on line, on the Village Board’s meetings, during which she has been giving routine updates on the work of an exploratory committee that Mayor Sander set up soon after the election to look for answers to the problem of poor cell reception. The newspaper, however, has never run a headline or separate story on the effort because it had yet to produce any specific plan ready to submit to the board and the public.
The committee includes Ms. Diat; Mr. Fiore, who is now a member of the Planning Board, and Trustee and Deputy Mayor E. Dianne Skilbred of North Haven Shores, who made a point of announcing that she is “totally opposed to putting a cell phone tower” at the site under consideration.
Until recently, the committee did not have a single site in mind. But as Ms. Diat reported at the start of Tuesday’s session, the committee this winter narrowed down the options to a single cell tower company out of five that submitted proposals and a single location in the village-owned woods north of Village Hall “that would be least impactful” out of 45 publicly owned properties that the committee reviewed.
Within the next 30 to 45 days, she said, the tower company will “erect a crane or a balloon” on the site to gauge how high the tower will have to be to clear the trees and to generate simulated images to show the public what the tower would look like from different points of view. The company will also conduct “propagation studies” and develop range maps to help determine whether the tower would improve service significantly.
There will be a public hearing on any final proposal actually submitted to the Village Board, Ms. Diat said, as well as a separate public hearing on any proposal to change the village code, which, in effect, currently bars cell phone towers. As it reads now, any freestanding antenna is limited to 35 feet as an accessory structure; the code also requires that there be another main use on the site. According to Friday’s discussion, the Stock Farm tower would have to be as much as 140 feet high.
“But we really are not even close to this phase,” Ms. Diat said, asking the Zoom meeting’s 43 attendees “to rest assured” that the “health and safety” of village residents will be “pre-eminent” considerations as the committee develops a proposal.
Mayor Sander commented that the topic has been on the board’s monthly meeting agendas since September or October and that the lack of cell service was “a big issue” during Ms. Diat’s and Mr. Fiore’s fall campaign, when both went door to door to speak with residents.
He wondered aloud if a show of support for a tower would emerge if other residents mounted a similar networking campaign to the one that yielded Tuesday’s show of force against the idea. “There may be equal numbers on the other side,” he said.
But “in any case, there was no intent not to make everyone aware” of the exploratory committee’s work, he said.