Over objections, Bethel Planning Board approves cell tower permit extension
Andrew Glasfeld, chairman of the Bethel Planning Board, opposed the approval last week of a permit extension on a 2006 plan for a 160-foot cell tower in West Bethel.
But he didn’t oppose it as a planner – he opposed it as a neighbor.
Global Tower Partners, LLC applied for the extension of the expiring permit this fall, in order to erect the tower on John Evans’ property off Route 2.
The site is located near the Westwood Road, but Glasfeld said that a recent nine-acre clearcut downslope of the potential tower site is now visible from the North Road, across the Androscoggin River.
In a letter to the board, he said the tree cutting qualifies as a significant change to the site area, and therefore planners should require a new application instead of just an extension on the existing permit.
“While site plan extensions require no public notice be given and no public hearings held, only through full site plan review will all of the people of Bethel be given the opportunity to be informed of and respond to this application,” Glasfeld wrote. “The only reason why the board has heard any opposition to this project is because one of the opposition happens to sit on the board.”
He also said an extension does not require notification of abutters.
The original permit, said Glasfeld, stated the tower could not reach more than 85 feet above the surrounding trees, implying there had been 75-foot trees in 2006.
But a recent site walk by the board determined “the trees that remain on this site fall well short of 75 feet,” he said.
Glasfeld said another portion of the board’s site walk “demonstrated a clean view of the clearcut site from several properties on the North Road.”
He stepped down from the board for last week’s consideration of the extension.
Several other neighbors also attended the meeting and voiced their concerns and desire for a full review. John DeVivo of Westwood Road said that to his knowledge, he was never notified of the original application.
Blaine Hopkins, representing Global, said that in the uncut area surrounding the proposed tower site, the distance from the center of the tower site to the edge of uncut vegetation is 279 feet.
The total uncut area around the tower is 8.8 acres, he said. A 100-by-100-foot area would be cut from that for the tower itself, said Hopkins.
As for the visual impact of the tower, he said, “I think you got a good sense of the visibility of this tower as you rode around. It’s not very visible.”
He also said the tower would not need to be lighted.
If the board did not grant the extension and he came back with a reapplication, “there’s nothing we could do any different than what we have right here.”
Hopkins said there is now a need for a new tower in this area.
“It gives us an opportunity to provide multiple service for multiple carriers. It will reach all way into the edge of town.”
He noted he had seen many Gould Academy students outside on their phones when he drove through town, and that more cell carrying capacity is needed.
If the extension were approved, he said, he would get the permit and “this would be probably be done within six to eight weeks.”
The tower could have between four and six cell phone carriers.
In discussion by the board, Vice Chairman Richard Blanco said the ordinance requires that if significant change occurs to the site and its environment that the board must evaluate an application for renewal of the permit to determine if an entirely new application is necessary.
But, he added, a conditional extension may be granted if board determines that changes do not necessitate a new application.
Planner Jon Cowan did not see a need for a new application.
“I’m thinking that there hasn’t been significant change to the site they’re proposing for the tower,” he said.
Planner Ginger Kelly said abutters had been worried about the possibility of runoff from the area of the clearcut damaging the Westwood Road, but a stormwater management plan had been created to address that.
Planner Mark Godomsky did not see a change in visual impact.
“The clearcut has nothing to do with the tower,” he said. “No matter where you are in the town of Bethel you will see the tower at the same elevation that you would with or without the clearcut. It will have the same canopy behind. There is no increased visibility than the original tower.”
Regarding the need for a new tower, Kelly said a West Bethel motel owner had told her there was no cell service in that area and that it was detrimental to business.
The board eventually unanimously approved the extension for one year, with conditions that include: all new utilities will be underground; the company must comply with the stormwater plan prepared for the project; the tower must be completed within one year; and no trees will be cut within the 8.8 forested acres surrounding the site, other than for the tower itself.