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The Curtis in downtown Lenox is a former landmark hotel transformed into 54 units of subsidized housing. A proposal to put a tower and antennas on top of the building has been tabled for the moment.

Citizens Group Protests Cell Antennas on Lenox's Curtis Building

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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LENOX, Mass. — A demonstration hosted by the Lenox Citizens for Safe Cell Siting Group highlighted its concerns this past weekend with placing a cell antennas on top of the Housing Authority's subsidized housing facility, the Curtis.

Member Courtney Gilardi, a Pittsfield resident who has been demanding action on cell tower in that city, said there are many issues within this proposal that include health risks for residents in the former hotel, equity concerns with placing technology on elderly and handicapped housing, and the allowance of a cell tower on residential property, opening the flood gates for other similar placements.

"Really what it becomes is not just an environmental health issue, it becomes a social justice issue because often these towers are placed in low socio-economic areas, and the Curtis is the only elderly disabled in low-income housing option for people in Lenox,'' she said.

"And these are the people who then have to rally their time, energy resources, and often money in order to hire an attorney to push back, whereas in wealthier neighborhoods, people don't put toxic infrastructure in wealthier neighborhoods, they get to have the benefit of it, but they don't have to have it living right next to them.''

She said 25 to 30 people came out to support the demonstration on Saturday and that group tried to share information with others.

"Some people were like, 'Well, I don't live at the Curtis, so why should I care?''' Gilardi said.

"And it was really interesting that citizens were educating people. 'Well, you know, this opens up the wireless zoning bylaws to placing small cells outside people's houses, or having infrastructure closest close to home.' And then they went, 'Oh, well, I wouldn't want it in my back yard or front yard,' and then they took the info sheet.''

Gilardi is currently residing in Lenox after leaving her Pittsfield home because of the cell tower at 877 South St. She says the tower has caused her family and neighbors to become ill.

She has been advocating for proper cell tower notifications, setbacks, and the removal of the tower in her neighborhood for over a year and is expanding her efforts to Lenox in the wake of this proposal.

Director of Lenox Housing Authority Barbara Heaphy told iBerkshires that the proposal is currently tabled by the town and that there is "really nothing to report right now.''

Evolution Site Services of Pittsfield was awarded the project through the Housing Authority. It is a local service provider company that contracts with Verizon.

In July, the Williamstown Zoning Board of Appeals approved a special permit for Evolution Site Services to build a 153-foot cell tower on land leased from Phelps Farm.

This is the third time that a cell tower has been proposed on the Curtis. In 2002, the Housing Authority voted to reject a proposal with AT&T and another fell through in 2017.

The current proposal at the Curtis has been in discussion since 2020.

Gilardi said she and others found a problem with attorney Anthony Lepore of Cityscape Consultants being hired to represent the town and citizens of Lenox in a potential contract, claiming the company also represents the telecommunication industries. 
 
The firm represents municipalities and local government in dealing with wireless infrastructure.
 
"So it's such a conflict of interest and people have been so upset by this," Gilardi said. "They've been speaking up at the select board meetings, they've been speaking up at the Planning Board meetings.''
      
Heaphy had no comment on this but Lepore confirmed to iBerkshires on Sept. 27 that Cityscape Consultants does not represent wireless carriers but rather provides expertise to local governments in dealing with them. 
 
Lepore said Gilardi and others in Lenox were conflating the consultants' representation of Lenox citizens to that of the wireless industry, calling it "patently false."

Lenox currently has a Wireless Telecommunications Overlay District that limits the facilities to three locations on Junction Routes 7 and 20 and Route 7.

"Lenox has very protective wireless zoning bylaws,'' Gilardi said. "So protective that it limits cell antenna placement to essentially three areas. Now, are those the right three areas? Who knows?''

Gilardi also found an issue in the lack of publication for meetings that have the cell tower proposal on the agenda. She and other residents reportedly felt left in the dark, specifically when a South County television station was not able to film a Planning Board meeting at the housing complex even though it was listed as a public meeting.

If approved, this proposal will likely have to go through the Historical Commission because of the old hotel's significance in the town.

The Curtis was built in 1829 as a hotel and got its name in 1853 when it was purchased by William O. Curtis and became known as the Curtis Hotel.

By the 1970s, the hotel was in rough shape and was purchased by the town of Lenox in 1979 to be converted into subsidized housing units that was completed in 1982.

Clarification: the original version of this article gave the appearance that Courtney Gilardi's opinion of Cityscape Consultants might be factual. Cityscape represents local government in dealing with wireless structures and this should have been made clear. This section has been updated to include a statement to that effect and comment from the town's Cityscape representative.


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Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership Discusses Priorities for Forest Center

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The executive committee of the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership on Thursday encouraged collaborators working on ideas for a forest center not to reinvent the wheel.
 
A pair of students in Williams College's Environmental Planning and Design program gave a presentation to the board about a survey they plan to assess priorities for the center, "an ambitious, somewhat nebulous concept right now but ... part of the enabling legislation establishing the partnership," according to the partnership's Chair Hank Art.
 
That legislation empowered a collaboration of 19 towns and cities in Berkshire and Franklin Counties to increase natural resource-based economic development and promote sustainable forestry practices in the region.
 
Sabrine Brismeur and Abby Matheny of Williams are working with the partnership to develop early concepts of what a permanent home for the MTWP might include and where it might be located.
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