Aquinnah voters will meet over cell rules
Mounting a multi-pronged effort to take control of the town's wireless future, Aquinnah voters will return to the town meeting floor on Jan. 17 to take up a revised set of zoning bylaws designed to allow for cellular telephone companies willing to use a wireless communication system that does not rely on high towers.
Following the special town meeting on Jan.19, Aquinnah officials will ask the Martha's Vineyard Commission to approve proposed amendments to the regulations governing the town's designation as a District of Critical Planning Concern by inserting regulations creating a wireless overlay district.
The selectmen have also referred to the MVC as a development of regional impact a proposal by Cingular Wireless to place a cellular antenna in a 48-foot high replacement steeple on the Gay Head Community Baptist Church. The national digital voice and data company filed suit against Aquinnah in state Land Court and US First District Court in Boston following the rejection of the company's request by the Aquinnah planning board on Oct. 6 for permission to erect an antenna.
Whether the MVC umbrella would bolster the town's defense against the lawsuit is uncertain. The federal Telecommunication Act of 1996 (TCA) limits the obstacles towns may place in the way of wireless communication companies seeking to provide service where there is a lack of coverage.
At the December special town meeting, much of the lengthy discussion focused on the legal and technical issues surrounding wireless communication. Voters approved by a two-thirds vote an amended article creating a special wireless overlay district that would allow for the placement of equipment at the town landfill needed to operate a distributed antenna system (DAS), a less obtrusive wireless communication system that uses fiber optic cable and a network of short antennas, which are most often placed on telephone poles in strategic locations.
Another special town meeting was needed because substantial amendments were needed to articles in the original special town meeting warrant presented to voters and designed to allow for a wireless tower of up to 120 feet to be erected at the landfill site. That article was amended to lower that height to 70 feet, making it unlikely that a company interested in putting up a tower would find the site attractive for such a system.
At the December special town meeting, David Maxson, a wireless consultant hired by the selectmen to assist the town with wireless issues, explained that, regardless of what a voter might think about wireless communication and cell phones, under federal law, towns cannot simply say no to wireless companies. He said the intention of the bylaw was to open up a way for companies to operate in the town in a fashion compatible with the character of the community.
At the Jan. 17 meeting, voters will be asked to amend the zoning by-laws to allow for antennas in the town's Wireless Overlay District that do not exceed 70 feet and allow for the installation of antennas on existing utility poles or poles installed for that purpose.
Voters will also be asked to create a wireless district consisting of parcel "whose prior use has caused it to be environmentally compromised, is severely restricted by that condition in its ability to support commercial or residential development and is under environmental supervision due to that condition including but not necessarily limited to the parcel at Assessors Map 8 Lot 31," namely the town landfill.
Selectmen will also ask voters to continue to provide them with technical help by providing $10,000 for wireless consultant services to assist the town in "putting out to bid, awarding, and overseeing the development of a wireless distributed antenna system with the express goals of minimizing the impact of wireless facility development on the town and generating revenue for the town from such facilities."
On another technological front, voters will be asked to take $750 from the stabilization fund to pay a consultant to prepare a wind turbine grant application through the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Town officials are proposing to place a turbine behind the town hall for the purpose of cutting the town's energy bill.
Buses will also be on the town meeting agenda when voters are asked to approve an article "to implore the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to give authorization to the Town of Aquinnah to adopt by-laws regulating the length, height, and width of buses, tours buses, charter buses, common carriers of passengers by motor vehicles, or other such vehicles of more than ten passengers being driven or operating on town-owned roadways within the limits of the town of Aquinnah."