Turnpike Cell Tower Begins Town Planning Process

Verizon is hoping to site a cell tower on Sag Harbor Village property on the turnpike currently used for police impound.

A wireless communications facility, replete with a 153-foot “stealth tree monopole,” and the associated fenced equipment compound has been proposed by Verizon on land owned by Sag Harbor Village. The project, which would be constructed at 1310 Sag Harbor Bridgehampton Turnpike, south of the Southampton Town transfer station debuted before the Town Planning Board last week. Members agreed to hold a pre-submission conference on the application on December 9.

At that time, a full presentation of the concept is expected.

In the meantime, Planning Board Chairwoman Jacqui Lofaro noted that she hopes the applicant will read the town’s wireless master plan because, she said, “they’re way over” what the master plan recommends in terms of height.

Drafted in 2008, the town’s wireless master plan lists a preference for multiple, small cellular structures. It doesn’t, however, hold firm to a single, uniform preference height-wise. Rather, how tall a tower may be can be specific to the individual site. For example, the Planning Board has approved Verizon’s request to construct a 160-foot wireless communication facility comprised of a monopole with external antennas-flush mounted with equipment shelters on an approximately 110-acre area utilized for sand mining located at 1 High Street and Sunrise Highway in Eastport.

The master plan notes town- or village-owned properties among its list of “areas of opportunity,” where such structures might be acceptable. It recommends developers limit the height of new wireless telecommunications facilities to “10 feet above the height of prevailing development, expressed as the average structure height within 100 feet of the proposed facility.” When there is no surrounding development, facility height should be measured against the average tree canopy height within the same 100 foot radius of the proposed facility site.

It also suggests using the best available camouflage techniques to limit the visual impact of the tower. While a “stealth tree monopole” is articulated in the application, Lofaro said she doubted the board would greenlight such a design because, “They’re so fake looking.”

If the site plan application is approved, the tower will be the third strategy in the effort to improve cell service in Sag Harbor Village, Mayor James Larocca explained this week. A tower in the cupola in village hall was “very well received,” he said and has been operational for months. He said officials have asked Verizon to provide coverage data to see what or how much the installation has improved. The company has agreed to pay $12,000 a year, with 2 percent annual increases, for the use of the cupola.

A second proposal, this one from WLNG radio, entailed bringing in a cell on wheels, or COW, to Redwood Causeway to boost coverage while the station’s request to rebuild its 165-foot lattice tower with a new one that would carry a handful of cellular antennas besides the station’s antenna. “That rolled in on a truck and went next to the radio tower,” the mayor recalled.

The next thing that happened put a strain on the village’s relationship with Verizon, Larocca opined. The primary reason for the COW was to improve emergency communication, and, he said, “I supported that application.”

It arrived during the summer of 2020, but this past summer, the mayor related, Verizon said they needed to take the COW back and use it at the US. Open tennis tournament. “As the mayor, I was not happy,” Larocca said. They removed it just as Tropical Storm Ida loomed. “The whole rationale was to enhance our emergency communications and they took it away to enhance their communications at a professional tennis tournament,” the mayor remarked.

The company notified the village they were coming back with a COW, but Larocca said, “It turns out they’re bringing back an entirely different unit, and that has concerned the folks in the neighborhood because we don’t know that facility.”

“Nowhere in this drama were we informed that the COW they were taking away wasn’t coming back,” Larocca continued. The mayor reported receiving a petition signed by 200 members of the community who expressed concern that the first COW was taken away when there was a potential emergency on the horizon and now the plan is to replace it with one that hasn’t been properly vetted. The application for the replacement COW has been tabled.