Commissioners Hank Art and Robert Hatton hear testimony on Thursday. Hatton's unqualified objection to the idea of using Margaret Lindley Park to host a cell tower effectively put an end to the idea.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Conservation Commission on Thursday took more than an hour's worth of testimony on the notion of putting a cell tower at Margaret Lindley Park.
It took Commissioner Robert Hatton about 20 seconds to render it all moot.
"I worked at Margaret Lindley Park for at least 12 or 15 years, the best years of my life, when I was 34 to about 50," Hatton said. "I ran Margaret Lindley Park with a lot of help, a lot of people who aren't here today who had a lot to do with the opening. … A lot of people put up money to save that piece of land so the town could get around to voting for it. Those people aren't around now.
"I can't see sacrificing Margaret Lindley Park for any reason whatsoever."
And that one unambiguous objection to the idea was all it took to send Verizon Wireless back to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which this winter suggested that the applicant explore the notion of siting their monopole tower on town-owned land.
Verizon is before the ZBA in a hearing that opened in the fall to seek a special permit to erect the tower on a private parcel across Route 2 from Margaret Lindley Park, in the lot behind the former Taconic Restaurant at 1161 Cold Spring Road (Route 7).
Faced with fierce opposition from residents who feel the Cold Spring Road site will harm viewshed for area residents and mar the gateway to town, the ZBA suggested a possible solution: putting the tower at the park, where it would, theoretically, be tucked back in the woods and where the revenue for Verizon's use of the land would accrue to the town.
ZBA member Keith Davis, in suggesting the park as an alternative site, noted that the town's cell tower bylaw expresses a preference for putting towers on municipal land.
This particular parcel of town-owned land is under the care and custody of the Con Comm and protected by Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution. As such, its disposition for any purpose — certainly for sale or lease to a private entity — would require a series of approvals that include a two-thirds vote of town meeting and a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
That process starts with a unanimous vote of the Con Comm, which is why Hatton's unqualified objection carried so much weight.
Once it was clear that one member of the panel had no intention of considering the request, Con Comm Chairman Hank Art had no choice but to send Verizon back to the ZBA, which is scheduled to continue its hearing next Thursday.
In reality, Hatton was not the only likely objector.
Back in December when the park idea was floated, longtime commissioner and former Con Comm Chairman Philip McKnight, who did not attend Thursday's meeting, wrote a letter to Town Manager Jason Hoch in which he said, in part, "Any attempt to place a cell tower in MLP which would require Commission action and consent will result, I believe, in a pronounced and negative reaction as well on the part of the people. Please look elsewhere for a tower site."
Two other commissioners who did attend Thursday's meeting did not go as far as Hatton but indicated at the end of the discussion that they were leaning against the idea.
"I came here very open about what we should do," Stephanie Boyd said. "I'm really struggling when I look at what would have to be done to Margaret Lindley Park. … Essentially, there would be an access road through the middle of the park."
Verizon has noted from day one that ease of access and the fact that the site was previously developed are reasons it favors the 1161 Cold Spring Road location.
"I'll keep talking about it, but I'm less liable to vote for [the tower in the park] having seen what might happen to the park," Commissioner Katie Wolfgang said.
Verizon's development team told the commission that it would need to clear a 70-foot by 70-foot area of the park in order to construct the tower compound itself, which measures 50-by-50. It also would need a 12-foot wide gravel road to the tower site, starting near the bathhouse at the park.
While Davis' original idea was to put the tower on previously developed land in the park (the site of a now unused cabin), Verizon's Jay Latorre told the Con Comm that the cabin is near water and in the commission's jurisdiction under the Wetlands Protection Act.
"An order of conditions would never be granted for the area where the cabin is," Latorre said.
A tower at Margaret Lindley Park also would have to be a little taller than one on the Cold Spring Road site because of the higher tree line in the park, Verizon's team said.
On the other hand, in a sneak peak of Thursday's ZBA meeting, the Latorre said Verizon has decided to lower by 5 feet the tower it is proposing for 1161 Cold Spring Road. That tower also now is being designed with lower-profile antennae, the kind that hug the monopole rather than projecting out from the top of the structure.
Two residents attended Thursday's hearing to raise concerns about the visual impact of a monopole at Margaret Lindley Park site.
In a preview of potential ZBA hearings on a special permit for that site, Travis McCarthy told the Con Comm that a larger tower on the town-owned site would be more of an eyesore than the one Verizon is looking to build nearby.
"If you're concerned about the view of people driving in and out of town, go look at where that [cabin] is," McCarthy said. "You can throw a baseball to it from Route 7. It's much closer to the road [than the 1161 Cold Spring Road site]."
Art anticipated that line of testimony even before McCarthy took the floor.
"I know neighbors up the hill would be universally in favor [of the Margaret Lindley Park alternative]," Art said, referring to a letter the commission received from nine people who identified themselves as residents of Old Farm Way, a group that included Karen Shepard, who spoke to the commission on Thursday urging it to consider allowing use of the park.
Members of Verizon's development team, foreground, follow the proceedings along with Commissioner Katie Wolfgang, left, and Andrew Groff.
"The neighbors down the road [like McCarthy], might be opposed," Art continued. "It's a matter of whose ox gets gored."
In other business on Thursday night, the Con Comm permitted the development of a pavilion addition and new restroom at the rear of Hot Tomatoes restaurant on Water Street and discussed a problem of tree poaching on the town-owned lot at Bridges Pond.
Hatton brought the latter issue to the panel's attention, reporting that eight white and red oak specimens had been cut down illegally in the last year.
Town Conservation Agent Andrew Groff told the commission he would consult with the Department of Public Works as soon as possible to see what could be done to help address the issue.
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