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Berlin Planning Board approves it first new cell tower

July 18, 2012
BERLIN - The Berlin Planning Board gave its approval, with some conditions, to the first new cell tower proposed in town. The board has given approval for co-locating antennaes on existing towers, but this was the first new tower proposed.

The tower will be located on Enman Hill on property owned by Paul and Lucie Ramsey.

Before coming to the planning board, U.S. Cellular had to get some approvals from the zoning board first. A couple of weeks ago that board approved special exceptions for the use in the rural residential zone and for the 100 square foot lease area on which the tower and small utility building will be located with an 8-foot high fence with 2 feet of barbed wire above that. The actual compound will be 75 square feet.

They also approved a variance for proposing their tower within 1,500 feet from an exisitng tower. In order to get that they had to prove they could not use an existing tower. They went over that information with the planning board as well. There are two towers with the 1,500 feet. One is north of the site and one is in Gorham. Both, the applicant said are at capacity. Today's smart phones soak up a lot of capacity, they said.

The special use permit from the planning board requires applicants to look at other existing structures. The owners of the smokestack in town weren't interested and the other tower is too thin to be able to support what U.S. Cellular would need to put on it.

Dan Goulet, an engineer for the radio frequency site said capacity and coverage are the two areas the new tower will address, especially the capacity issue. Presently existing towers are operating at 91 percent, much higher than they should be. The new tower will off load this by 55 percent.

There is an existing access road that goes part way to the site, Peter Marchant, with U.S. Cellular said. It presently goes up 480 feet, 2,000 feet are needed. They will construct what's needed, with guardrails and a gate at the bottom. The site will only be visited maybe once a month and not at all during the winter unless needed.

The tower will be a 180 foot lattice tower. U.S. Cellular will have the first arrays, below that there will be room for more carriers. Because it is under 200 feet, it does not have to be lighted. There will only be a small motion sensor light above the door of the utility building. The shelter will be 12 by 20 feet with a propane generator. The tower will be built to code, which is to withstand 100 mph wind with ice.

The applicant had requested a variance from the zoning board for full setbacks (that is, enough setback to contain the entire 180 foot tower should it fall). Towers can be built to bend over at various areas on the tower. That was denied. Because they are now proposing the full setbacks, the planning board decided not to require that the tower bend.

The board approved a number of waivers from requirements that would not be applicable in this case.

The board approved the plan with the following conditions: a report from an environmental study underway be submitted when completed, the company and city attorney work out a suitable bond of insurance and the company will forward a letter annually stating they are in compliance with all requirements and that the tower is still needed.

In other business, the board approved a minor lot line adjustment for Norman and Sue Small between two properties they own, the Berlin Bowling Center and the former Big Scoop ice cream shop.

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