Updated March 30
In a 36-page ruling, Superior Court Judge Paul Wilson dismissed a lawsuit brought by Dana and Robert Strayton against the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and AT&T over the lawfulness of a 115-foot cell tower near their Chappaquiddick home.
The Straytons came out against the tower from the get-go. It was formally proposed in 2017, and received approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) the same year. Edgartown’s planning board approved the tower in 2018. Both the planning board vote and the MVC vote were later retaken due to a procedural error. The MVC and planning board each approved the tower again. The Straytons appealed the MVC’s decision in superior court in 2018. The Strayton’s suit also named Robert Fynbo, owner of the tower site, and his company MVWIFI, LLC.
Among Judge Wilson’s findings were that the Straytons failed to provide concrete evidence as opposed to “speculative personal opinion” to substantiate that they should be considered aggrieved parties because their view was ruined by the cell tower. Judge Wilson also found that evidence the Straytons offered about potential dangers associated with the tower toppling or objects falling from the tower amounted to “speculation rather than fact.” Judge Wilson found that the Straytons were unable to prove their property was less valuable as a result of the erection of the cell tower. He further found that the Straytons could not claim diminished property value because of a recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling. Quoting from that ruling, Judge Wilson wrote, “‘It is well-established … that diminution in value itself is not an interest protected’ by zoning laws.”
Judge Wilson noted evidence the Straytons wished to present in trial about radio frequency emissions from the tower, specifically about those emissions having a possible negative effect on Robert Strayton’s medical equipment, could not be contemplated by the MVC or by the superior court under federal law.
“Obviously we’re happy to prevail,” MVC executive director Adam Turner told The Times Tuesday. “It was a very well-written and well-supported decision. The judge worked very hard.”
Brian Grossman, attorney for Fynbo and MVWIFI, called Judge Wilson’s decision “extraordinarily thorough.” He added, “We’re happy and thrilled with the verdict.”
Daniel Hill, attorney for the Straytons, said he was still reviewing the decision, and declined comment. Jonathan Elder, attorney for AT&T, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The Straytons also filed two cases in land court related to the cell tower. One case was brought against the Edgartown planning board, the other against the Edgartown zoning board of appeals. Both remain open.
Updated with reaction from some of the litigants and additional information about the lawsuit.