Homeowner asks court to block NPR signal boost

— Photo by Ralph Stewart

Woods Hole-based WCAI, the Cape and Island’s local NPR (National Public Radio) station, faces a legal hurdle in its effort to reach more Martha’s Vineyard listeners by boosting its signal strength.

In July, the Tisbury zoning board of appeals granted a special permit to WCAI to replace its signal antenna, located on local radio station WMVY’s radio antenna tower on Carroll’s Way in Vineyard Haven, and erect a shed to house transmitting equipment.

On August 5, Thomas N.Sullivan, who lives across the street from the WMVY tower, filed a lawsuit in Dukes County Superior Court against the WGBH Educational Foundation, WCAI’s Boston-based parent organization, the Tisbury zoning board of appeals (ZBA), and Aritaur Communications (WMVY).

The seven-page lawsuit said that the ZBA did not comply with the conditions for issuing a special permit and asks the court to annul the ZBA decision.

Mr. Sullivan’s lawyer, Sean Burke of the McCarron, Murphy, Vukota law firm in Edgartown, told The Times he would file a motion within the next two months that asks the court to overrule the ZBA decision or to set a date for trial.

Mr. Burke wrote, “The plaintiff’s enjoyment of his land and his health, safety, and welfare will be adversely affected by the permitting of the building to house transmitter equipment and the installation of additional antennas on the tower, as the tower is already structurally deficient. The plaintiff will also suffer economic harm in decreased value of his property.”

Mr. Sullivan bought his property in August, 1980, according to town records. He built his two-bedroom house in 1981.

His complaint argues further that the ZBA’s decision to issue a special permit is based on a bylaw that applies only to “governmental entities and public utilities.” The ZBA’s decision is in direct contradiction to the zoning bylaw and exceeds the authority of the board, Mr. Burke alleges.

Mr. Sullivan did not respond to a request for comment.

John Voci, director of technology and business development for WGBH in Boston, which holds the license for WCAI, said last week that the antenna would not change the footprint of the tower, and that the shed would be virtually unseen from the road.

“The shed is 240-square feet, the kind people commonly have in their backyards,” he said.

Mr. Voci, former WCAI station manager, said that WMVY licensed use of the tower 14 years ago as a courtesy, when the station withdrew its plan for a tower on Indian Hill in West Tisbury after encountering community opposition.

He said the antenna’s direction was fixed at first to avoid interference with New Bedford-based TV Channel Six’s signal, but the advent of high definition signals allowed redirection of the WCAI signal to maximize the output, range, and quality of its signal.

“We are working through in-house counsel and attorney Ron Rappaport in Edgartown to resolve the issues with the plaintiff and determine the best way to proceed,” Mr. Voci said.