Verizon tower moves through DRI process

After months of continued public hearings, Verizon moves past public hearing phase.

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Commissioners look at several graphs and charts about how tree growth affects the fresnel zone of the Verizon tower.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission closed its public hearing on the contentious Verizon Tower in Tisbury at the commission’s meeting Thursday night.

At issue is a proposal to increase the height of the Verizon tower on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road from 77 feet to 130 feet so the microwave signals are not obstructed by trees. According to Geoghan Coogan, an attorney who represents Verizon New England, 22 trees are already causing signal degradation.

The project’s public hearing extended over several months — through three commission meetings — due to commissioners wanting more information and to scheduling conflicts.

Tim Boland, executive director of Polly Hill Arboretum, and other arborists have spoken with the MVC about the estimated growth of the trees. The tallest tree stands at 74.8 feet, and the next tallest tree at 65 feet. At its estimated growth rate, the tallest tree would take 50 years to grow 100 feet, but is not expected to grow that high and would likely not live that long. According to estimates, the trees will most likely reach a maximum height of 80 feet. It is unlikely they will reach 90 or 100 feet.

Commissioners were also concerned with the dish placement on the tower. The current design has each dish placed close together, but the proposed design adds a significant amount of space between the top and bottom dishes.

Ellen Cummings, a Verizon representative at the meeting, said the design of the tower called for a distance between the bottom dishes and the top dish.

“We’re building the thing for performance to make sure landline calls get off the Island … If it could be 20 or 30 feet lower, that would have been the design,” Coogan said.

After some back and forth over the math involved with the tower height and the tree height, commissioner Douglas Sederholm requested one more graph showing the trees at 80 feet tall and a tower at 110 feet.

Commission chair Jim Vercruysse closed the public hearing, but left the written record open until Jan. 10, allowing Verizon to submit the requested graphs.

In other business, a project at Mariner’s Landing in Edgartown came before the commission due to a cease-and-desist filed by abutters.

The project, a large mixed-use building with offices and apartments, was approved in 2014, but abutters Russell and Joyce Swartz have taken issue with several compressors that will be placed inside sheds outside the building.

Joyce Swartz told commissioners Thursday night that when the project began, she and her husband were told the sheds would be for storage, not compressors — which can be as loud as a person talking. When they learned that compressors would be placed there, they filed for a cease-and-desist.

The project aims to place eight compressors outside, which the Swartzs believe will be the same as eight people constantly talking.

The commission felt adding the compressors required a modification review, since it is a significant change from the previous project proposal.

Sean Henry, a portfolio manager for the property, told commissioners he wanted to work with the couple and the commission to come up with a solution.

Housing counselor Karen Tewhey of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority gave an update on Island homelessness. She said 120 Island residents have reported homelessness, and that they face a unique housing crisis on the Island due to a lack of vacant rental housing. This makes any person of any income class vulnerable to homelessness, according to Tewhey.

The housing authority is focused on congregate housing, which they believe will help solve the homelessness problem on the Island. According to Tewhey, congregate housing models have seen success off-Island.

In a similar vein, commissioner Fred Hancock informed selectmen about the updated affordable housing committee’s policy.

Hancock submitted a draft of the policy to commissioners for review. The committee is working on several aspects of the policy, but said the most significant current change is basing affordable housing contributions on the appraised value of a property instead of its assessed value.

“We’ve had projects where the assessed value is $2.2 million and the applicant bought the property for $6.3 million; it doesn’t seem fair that they’re paying their affordable housing contribution on the lower assessed value,” Hancock said.

The commission shifted leadership duties among its ranks Thursday night. After two years as chair, Vercruysse will hand the gavel to Sederholm, who will become chair. Commissioner Josh Goldstein will become vice chair, and commissioner Ernie Thomas will remain as treasurer.

Commissioners applauded Vercruysse for his tenure as chairman.

“I appreciate all the support I’ve gotten as chairman. I enjoyed it. I’ve loved working with [executive director Adam Turner],” Vercruysse said.