The public hearing on the proposed Verizon cell tower in Milan remains open as Verizon representatives and town officials continue to circle the issues of tower height and signal strength.
At the Aug. 27 zoning board of appeals meeting, Verizon continued its quest for a variance that would allow the company to build a 150 ft. tower on Academy Hill Road to look like an evergreen tree with an antenna centerline of either 135 or 146 feet. When ZBA member Phil Zemke asked which antenna height Verizon was proposing, Verizon attorney Scott Olson responded that it depended on whether the ZBA upheld the town’s -90 decibel standard for wireless frequencies.
He added that Verizon believes an appropriate frequency standard is -85 decibels, which would require that the antenna centerline be moved up to 146 feet.
“If towns and states were allowed to regulate radio signal frequency strength,” Olson said, “I think wireless industry as we know it would kind of crumble… the [Federal Communications Commission] believes that we [Verizon] know our system best.”
Ronald Graiff, an independent consultant in radio frequencies for Milan, told the board he agreed with Verizon that -90 is too weak. He advised the ZBA that a higher antenna would provide a stronger signal and also would avoid the need to build another tower in the future.
When the public hearing on the application was opened, attorneys Warren Replansky and David Gordon, representing Academy Hill residents, criticized Olson for asking the ZBA to consider complicated technical and legal issues when the main issue before the board is what tower height to allow.
Replansky and Gordon insisted that frequency levels are spelled out in the town code and changing that standard is up to the Town Board; all the ZBA has to do is decide whether the requested variance is appropriate and whether it has a minimal effect within the existing town standards.
A faux-evergreen tower 70 to 80 ft. taller than surrounding deciduous trees is hardly minimal, Gordon added.
Because the detailed technical information on frequency strength that Verizon provided was not available to the public from the ZBA office until the morning of the meeting, Gordon requested that the public hearing be extended. Olson reluctantly agreed and the board approved the extension until the next ZBA meeting, which will be held Sept. 24 at 7pm in Milan Town Hall.