Cell phone tower plan raises static in Weymouth

By Ed Baker
GateHouse News Service
Posted Oct 29, 2009 @ 06:01 PM

Weymouth — T-Mobile’s proposal to improve cell phone communications with a 100-foot uni-pole at 84 Liberty St fell on deaf ears during an Oct. 28 board of zoning appeals hearing.

Company officials said that the flagpole-like device, complete with Old Glory, would be visually appealing and strengthen cell phone transmissions in South Weymouth, but residents’ concerns did not diminish.

“Nobody wants the tower,” said Richard Pessin, a Sandtrap Circle homeowner who presented the board a petition with the names of 200 residents who oppose having a cell tower at the site.

T-Mobile is seeking a variance to construct the pole 50 feet away from a residential district.

The zoning ordinance requires freestanding devices in an industrial zone to be 200 feet away from an R-1 district.

T-Mobile is additionally seeking a variance to exceed Weymouth’s 35-foot height restriction on freestanding structures like cell phone towers and a special permit to build the device in an industrial zone.

According to Pessin, putting a uni-pole on Liberty Street makes no sense because people who live near the site enjoy good cell phone service

“T-Mobile needs a special permit and variances to construct the cell phone tower,” he said. “That indicates how out of line the proposal is. Allowing the cell phone tower to be built will impact land values. Their request is for something that is three times the allowed height.”

Pessin argued that there are other suitable locations in Weymouth for a uni-pole.

“I could show you a dozen sites,” he said.

T-Mobile attorney Francis D. Parisi said that the Liberty Street location for the uni-pole is necessary to guarantee good telecommunication service in the area.

“We think that this would be a good site because it is in an industrial zone,” he said.

Parisi explained that T-Mobile considered putting a cell tower at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station and near the Weymouth-Hingham town border, but these sites posed challenges.

“There were too many issues at the air base,” he said. “There was some industrial land over the town border in Hingham, but the area was a half-mile away, given our coverage objective. That is too far out of the way for what we are trying to achieve.”

Parisi added that T-Mobile is simply trying to improve its subscribers’ ability to transmit calls on their cell phones inside their homes without the signal fading away.

“We are trying to provide in building service coverage near Liberty Street and Pleasant Street,” he said. “By moving the site farther east toward the Hingham line, it does not reach into the residential area we are serving, and it creates (transmission) gaps.”

T-Mobile previously proposed a 120-foot monopole at 84 Liberty St, but the idea was dropped in response to neighbors’ concerns.

Parisi said that the telecommunications industry is quite creative with designing poles that have eye appeal.

“We have been able to develop a uni-pole that has antennas inside it rather than on the outside,” he said. “It is essentially a flag pole. There is a (uni-pole) flagpole in downtown Plymouth in one of the most historically sensitive areas of New England. This is something we can put a flag on.”

Parisi said that uni-poles are designed to withstand extreme weather like hurricanes, topple onto themselves vertically, and not fall sideways if a catastrophe occurred.

“We have built uni-poles at city halls,” he said. “We have built these towers in school lots and playgrounds. We feel that a flag pole design is appropriate.”

Town Council President Michael Smart said that he proposed uni-pole would not be a good fit for the location.

“The quality of life will be affected,” he said. “People will see a tower that is twice the height of the trees.”

Smart said that there has been no mention of addressing possible health concerns posed by a cell phone tower to residents in T-Mobile’s application.

“The World Health Organization has documents that recommend that governing boards look into health he,” Smart said.

T-Mobile consultant James George said that the company considered placing a cell tower at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station but dropped the idea.

“There are major issues there,” he said. “There are about 900 acres that are still controlled by the U.S. government.”

George said that many of the parcels controlled by the Navy have contamination and T-Mobile won’t build a tower on a dirty parcel.

“I would have a problem trying to attract (wireless company) tenants to a dirty property,” he said.

Smart said that George’s analysis is erroneous.

“I respectfully disagree with you,” Smart told George. “A lot of the facts you have given out are red herrings and completely erroneous. This town has gone through four different (base renovation) plans. I’ve been to many base cleanup meetings. It does not sound like you spoke to Mr. (Kevin) Donovan (South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp. CEO).”

Putters Run homeowner David Toomey said that police and fire department dispatchers told him that they have not had difficulty getting cell phone calls from people.

“They have not had problems getting 911 calls,” he said. “My wife has a T-Mobile cell phone, and she has not experienced any problems in the town.”

Parisi said that the uni-pole is needed because of technology changes.

“T-Mobile is trying to improve coverage now and for the future,” he said. “People are using cell phones more and more. People use their cell phones to check the Red Sox score. People use their cell phones to transmit video, and pretty soon you will be able to watch the Red Sox on your cell phone.”

Parisi said that uni-poles are becoming more acceptable by residents in various Massachusetts towns.

“They (uni-poles) are much more visually appealing,” he said. “In Exeter, Rhode Island, they have a uni-pole. There is a uni-pole in Lexington.”

To illustrate the need for a uni-pole, Parisi said that he could provide data about how many of its subscribers have had difficulty with their cell phone signals in South Weymouth in recent months.

“I’d like to submit more data,” he said to Board chairman Richard McLeod.

McLeod advised Parisi to submit the information to the board before the hearing is continued on Nov. 18.

“I’m not hearing a need for added coverage in that area,” McLeod told Parisi. “If you want to provide data about dropped cell phone calls, it is your burden to prove that to us. You have to show us that you have a substantial hardship.”