Planning board shuts down Chappy cell tower debate

Edgartown selectmen listened to presentation a day earlier.

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Robert Strayton shows selectmen his model of Sampson Ave. and the proposed cell tower. — Lucas Thors

Robert Strayton went before the Edgartown selectmen Monday to propose an alternative placement of the permanent Chappaquiddick cell tower on town-owned, forested land.

The tower, which has been a continued point of debate for the town, is proposed for Sampson Avenue, one of the most densely populated areas on Chappy, at a private residence owned by Robert Fynbo. Fynbo is the owner of Chappaquiddick Wireless Internet Service, a company he formed 35 years ago by erecting an 85-foot cell tower on his land. Now a 104-foot temporary tower stands next to the proposed build site. For the past 3 years, both the temporary tower and proposed permanent tower have been topics of contention between AT&T (the agreed service provider for the tower) and residents of Sampson Avenue.

Strayton, who has staunchly opposed the temporary tower since AT&T submitted plans to the Edgartown planning board in March 2016, told the selectmen parcels of town land are more viable options in lieu of the Sampson Avenue land.

Among suggested parcels were 29 Old Indian Trail, located on assessors’ parcel 34-247, and Cassat Way, located on assessors’ parcel 35-18. Strayton explained that Old Indian Trail is located on 7.7 acres of heavily wooded land and is 42 feet above sea level (according to Strayton, Fynbo’s lot is at 19 feet above sea level).

Strayton told selectmen he believes the location would have much less of an impact on the overall health and wellness of Chappy residents. Since the land is situated farther above sea level, the broadcast radius would be larger than on Sampson Avenue, according to Strayton. The Old Indian Trail location is, according to Strayton, far away from any residences, but would still provide a large service range. 

A petition submitted by Strayton urging alternative placement of the tower had over 100 signatures.

Also part of Strayton’s submission was an architectural model diagraming the area of Sampson Avenue. The model showed the temporary 104-foot tower already on the land, as well as the proposed permanent tower. Colored circles radiating out from the permanent tower represented Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “drop zones.”

According to Strayton, the first zone (indicated by an orange circle), is the zone in which equipment that falls from the tower is likely to hit the ground. The second zone is the “ice fall zone,” in which ice that falls from the tower will land. The third zone is the actual fall zone of the tower, if structural supports fail.

Strayton suggested this is a serious problem and poses a danger to surrounding residences.

Instead of AT&T, Strayton urged selectmen to consider Grain Communications.  

The selectmen took the petition under advisement, although chairman Michael Donaroma told Strayton the issue is in the purview of the planning board.

On Tuesday, the planning board closed public input, saying the central purpose of the continued public hearing was to review a rebuttal from attorney Arthur Kreiger, who is representing AT&T in this case. Kreiger’s rebuttal served to discount many of the central facets for argument against the new permanent tower (made by several concerned Chappy residents). The board stated at its prior meeting that Kreiger’s rebuttal would be the only public comment heard. 

Among these residents was Strayton, who brought his scale model to the hearing and, according to him, was prepared to provide further evidence of the tower being an imposition (and a danger) to the surrounding area.

Kreiger addressed Strayton’s point of the fall zone of the tower. He suggested the tower was explicitly designed not to topple over, even in very strong winds. He said the tower base is thicker than the upper part, therefore it would bend at the midpoint, instead of snapping at the base.

Kreiger said the tower would not have a substantial impact on property value because people “do not see things that are above the treetops.”

He also insisted there are no other viable options that would provide sufficient coverage (based on AT&T coverage maps).

After the meeting, Strayton said he was surprised the board would not allow him and his lawyer to submit more evidence for consideration. “I was prepared to show more proof that this is just plain wrong,” Strayton told The Times after the hearing.

David Maxson, co-founder of Isotrope LLC, is working with Strayton to fight against the tower. He has worked for nearly 30 years providing municipalities and organizations with support on wireless matters. He told The Times after the hearing that he too was prepared to show evidence proving the tower should not be allowed, and was disappointed when the board shut down the hearing so abruptly.

The board unanimously passed a motion to continue internal discussion regarding the tower, and established another public hearing date for Sept. 4 at 6 pm. At that point, the board will review findings and announce their plans going forward.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Why is it that only now 29 Old Indian Trail is being brought into the discussion? This has been going on for at least 7 years.

  2. I applaud Rob Strayton’s approach in bringing real facts and evidence forward in his effort to objectify and reason out this issue both so the town can make a better more informed decision. This issue has been backed into with AT&T waving promises, deadlines and money around to the absolute detriment of many people whose concerns for safety, property, and protection have been roundly criticized, condemned, diminished or ignored. They deserve better representation, they deserve to be heard and the Town needs to become much more transparent in defining on what information and criteria they have been making decisions. Mr. Strayton is clearly laying out the facts, he is calling out that there are far superior solutions that don’t imperil residents AND provide BETTER coverage. Why is the TOWN so reluctant to use this information? Particularly the information that should have been considered previously by both the town and its appointed “advisers”. Mr. Strayton deserves to be listened to, respectfully, and the Town needs to be accountable to what he is saying, not playing politics or dodgeball. The most immediately affected residents are entitled to expect this and the Town needs to demonstrate this!

    • The “most immediately affected residents” want action NOW and are fed up with delays and BS.

    • IslanderatHeart, thank you for your support. What I wish more people could understand is that I am doing this because, like many others, I feel this proposed Sampson Ave site is the most impactful and most detrimental site on Chappy. Not simply to my neighborhood, but to the island as a whole. And I feel, as a steward of Chappaquiddick that I owe the future generations a sane, sound, reasoned approach to addressing cell coverage on Chappy.

      Old Indian Trail / Majane Lane provide better coverage to more of Chappy and more of Edgartown, without requiring future height increases, and therefore, those sites out in the woods are less impactful, more complaint and more equally, and equitably, share the burden of cell tower among all the residents of Chappaquiddick; now, and long into the future. Thanks, Islander.

  3. 29 Old Indian Trail was identified by AT&T in 2011 (2011 AT&T Site Analysis) as “the best place on Chappy to site a cell tower.” That was confirmed in 2012 by David Maxson, then consulting to the Chappy Wireless Committee. In 2015 all three respondents to the Edgartown Request for Proposals (RFP), American Tower, Homeland Tower & Grain Communications sited 29 Old Indian Trail as a potential town-owned site to construct a tower on Chappy. In 2017, AT&T signed a lease at 2 Majane Lane the private parcel directly abutting 29 Old Indian Trail. 29 Old Indian Trail, a 7.7 acre town-owned parcel, surrounded by 58+ acres of town-owned woods is hardly “new” to this discussion.

    Perhaps relevant, is that is is just ½ mile from the Sampson Ave site. There would be no homes with 1000 feet of an Old Indian Trail site versus over a dozen homes with 350 feet of a Sampson Ave site.

    Germaine to this discussion is that all of AT&T’s applications have been predicated on three premises: there was no 30B public procurement process (there was, the 2015 RFP), town land was not available (it is, and the 100+ signatures bear that out) and there are no “other developers willing to build a tower on Chappy,” also untrue, there are at least three,. Most importantly, Grain Communications, a company founded by an Island resident, awarded the 2015 RFP tower contract, has renewed its commitment, on August 9, 2018, to build a tower, on town land, on Chappy.

    Perhaps the most significant facts about the AT&T application to construct a 120 – 140-foot cell tower on a half-acre, non-conforming residential lot in the midst of the most densely populated residential neighborhood on Chappaquiddick is that it does not conform to any aspect of the Bylaws. None.

    David Maxson, perhaps New England’s most well respected cell tower siting expert, a guy hired 8 times by the Town of Edgartown alone, stated at the public hearing on July 24, that Sampson Ave is not simply the wrong location for a cell tower but that it is counter to the Bylaws of Edgartown, a Bylaw he help the Town to write, and contrary to the intent and purpose of zoning laws everywhere. He stated “it is the most egregious site he had seen in his entire career.”

    At a Planning Board hearing on July 24, 2018 Jon Witten, a certified city planner, and a 30-year professor of city planning at Tufts University, detailed how Sampson Ave not only fails to meet any standard of the Bylaws, but that the Bylaws, zoning laws generally exist to prevent a development like this, in a location like this. Mr. Witten explained that no city planner anywhere, would find Sampson Ave an appropriate site for a cell tower.

    As a land use attorney, and a professor of land use law at Boston College Law School, Mr. Witten went on to explain how the Planning Board simply cannot make any of the required findings under the Edgartown Bylaws.

    The Planning Board refused to allow questions from the Board, and the public, in spite of numerous statements from Members, and the public that they wished to be heard, at both the July 24 “opposition presentation” and this subsequent August 21 hearing. The denial of the public to be heard in a public hearing should be very disconcerting to everyone.

    Our group, of over 40 Chappy residents, and home-owners have never said there should not be a cell tower on Chappy, we have simply asked that among the hundreds and hundreds of acres of woods, a suitable site be found that is not so harmful, not so impactful to this neighborhood and ultimately to Chappaquiddick as a whole.

    I suppose one litmus test for a proposed Sampson Ave tower is this: If a 120 – 140-foot cell tower were proposed for a half-acre residential lot anywhere else in Edgartown, would we still be considering it?

  4. So the question becomes: why did the town not make a deal with AT&T on 29 Old Indian Trail back in 2011?

  5. In 2011, AT&T evaluated public land on Chappy and identified 29 Old indian Trail as the “best site on Chappy for a tower.” The Town then formed the Cell Committee I & hired David Maxson.

    A tower was summarily rejected by the majority of Chappy residents for being too intrusive, too impactful to Chappy. There was, and is, an overwhelming preference for a less impactful Distributed Antenna System (DAS) like Chilmark.

    Chilmark built its DAS preemptively. The Chilmark DAS was built to prevent towers.

    Under the Telecommunications Act, municipalities cannot deny carriers the right to address a coverage gap. Carriers will always propose a cheaper and simpler tower over any other method.

    By building the DAS, Chilmark was able to comply with Federal Law, by not denying the carriers a means to address coverage, AND precluded towers. If a carrier wanted to offer service in Chilmark the means was available, the town-owned DAS.

    That was an extremely smart move on the part of Chilmark, and what has preserved its pristine vistas.

    In 2012 Maxson wrote the Chappy Distributed Antenna System RFP. There was one respondent, Grain Communications. The difference is that as a commercial enterprise, Grain would not build a DAS unless it had commitments from carriers to go on to it.

    The Town of Edgartown could have followed Chilmark, Aquinnah & Nantucket’s lead, and deployed a DAS on Chappy to address service requirements for public safety, and had they built it, the carriers would have come, because it would have been the only option for the carriers to provide service on Chappy.

    Now that Comcast has ringed Chappy with fiber-optic cables, much of the cost of building a DAS has been addressed. More importantly, advances in technology, specifically “small cell” which is far more robust, offers significantly improved data throughput, and longer range over DAS makes a telephone-pole-mounted solution not only more attractive, but also obviates many of the deficiencies associated with DAS.

    The bottom line is that since the beginning of this debate in 2011, the advances in technology have made a less impactful, and more desirable small cell option not simply available, but dramatically more cost-effective for the town, and the carriers. We should reject the Sampson Ave tower, for what is now a much less impactful solution that will serve the needs for emergency communication on Chappy now, and long into the future.

  6. In 2011, AT&T could not sign a contract to build on town land without a specific public procurement process, a state regulated 30B public procurement contract.

    No 30B was conducted in 2011. Though a 30B was conducted in 2012 as part of the DAS RFP and again in 2015 as part of the “cellular facilities” RFP that year. AT&T did not respond to either of those processes governed by Massachusetts State Law (MGL 30B).

    What I asked the Selectmen to do, on August 20, 2018, was to follow-through on the 2015 30B public procurement process. Part of that process is collecting signatures to show a desire among the citizens. The response was overwhelmingly in favor of making town land available on Chappy to host a tower.

  7. So there you have it, folks – the long answer (from Mr. Strayton), and the short answer (from me): the Chappy folks did not want the tower on public land, but by a large margin are ok with it on Mr. Fynbo’s land.

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