Abutters sue to block Katama Farm silo wireless antennae

Edgartown have given permission to AT&T Mobile to place wireless antennas inside a Katama Farm silo. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The owners of a seasonal Edgartown home filed a lawsuit on March 7 in Massachusetts Land Court to block New Cingular Wireless (AT&T Mobility) from placing a multi-carrier wireless service facility capable of hosting multiple antennas inside a silo on Katama Farm.

Plaintiffs James D. Javaras and Nancy N. Javaras of Princeton have named New Cingular Wireless (AT&T Mobility), the town of Edgartown, and the five-member Edgartown planning board as defendants.

The Javaras Edgartown home, assessed at $2.3 million, is located at 15 Beach Plum Meadows just to the north of the town-owned Katama Farm, which is operated by The FARM Institute, a nonprofit.

The lawsuit says that the decision of the planning board is “arbitrary and capricious, based on legally untenable grounds and exceeds the authority of the board.”

Among other things, the lawsuit says that installation of a wireless antennae in the immediate vicinity of their house would “significantly diminish the property value of their property” and the siting of the antennae is improper and “will adversely affect the neighborhood.”

In addition, lawyer Thomas M. Bovenzi of Leominster said the planning board violated zoning bylaws.

Following several public hearings, the Edgartown planning board voted unanimously on February 5 to approve a special permit for New Cingular Wireless (AT&T Mobility).

During the public hearing phase, neighbors raised concerns about the possible health effects of cellular phone signals and the possibility for decreased property values.

Town leaders said the antenna would improve and expand mobile phone service in the area and provide significant income.

In issuing its decision, the planning board determined that the silo is the only available structure tall enough to provide the antennas with adequate coverage of the targeted area, and “that the antennas hidden in the silo are more visually beneficial to the community than a single 170-foot tower.”

The federal Telecommunication Act of 1996 bars towns from arbitrarily rejecting an application to site a wireless facility. The act also prohibits towns from citing the perceived environmental or health effects of radio frequency emissions when objecting to the construction of towers.

While the law empowers cities and towns to control where the facilities are sited, town governments may not say no to any carrier. At the same time, the burden is on the carrier to demonstrate that there is a need for coverage and to make efforts to share wireless facility sites.

AT&T Mobility has offered to pay $28,000 to rent the space from the town for the first year. Each succeeding year the rent will increase by three percent. Over the 10-year lease, the town would realize $321,000 in revenue.