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Zoning Board approves cell tower

March 03, 2021
LITTLETON — Vertex Tower Assets received the green light from Littleton Zoning Board officials last week to develop a 140-foot communications tower near the hospital. The Massachusetts-based company secured a special exception in late Jan but needed additional variance approval because of the site's proximity to an existing tower.

Section 6.10.12 of the town's zoning ordinance indicates that no personal wireless communications tower of any kind may be located within a one-mile radius of any other personal wireless communications tower without variance approval from the zoning board. In a variance application filed on Feb. 2, Vertex attorney Frank Parisi argued that the existing structure was not a personal wireless communications tower.

The document stated, "Based on photos taken from public rights of way, it appears that the facility at 140 Tower Hill Rd. is a 'tower' as defined by the ordinance. However, there is no evidence that the facility is used or will be used by a licensed provider of personal wireless services."

Board Chair David Rochefort said, "The applicant didn't think that what currently existed classified as a wireless communication tower. But to satisfy the ordinance, he applied for the variance."

Rochefort continued, "There's another layer of federal laws that go with this project. They want to make sure that people have access to communications, especially in under-served areas. When a scenario like this exists, the federal laws preempt much of the stuff that we do, unless there's substantial evidence that would prohibit this type of tower."

After two lengthy and thorough public hearings, board members approved both the variance and the special exception. The special exception request was approved unanimously, while the variance received a majority vote with only one member opposed.

Rochefort stated, "The board didn't feel that there was any substantial reason to deny the application. Furthermore, the board felt that the application was solid and would fit an unmet need in the area."

"The zoning board is the land use board. Our job is to decide whether the land is appropriate, and we don't get involved in who has the better business plan. Our scope is very limited," stated Rochefort.

Although Vertex received the necessary local approvals, the company must still go through a lengthy federal process before constructing the tower and outbuildings. Construction is not expected to begin before the end of the year, said Rochefort.

"We feel very comfortable with the decision. It was the first cellular tower that most of us had seen, and it's a bit more complex than other applications. We felt like we did the right thing here," added Rochefort.

If constructed, the proposed 140-foot monopole tower would reach a maximum height of 146 feet for antenna and extend above the tree line. The proposed location is a 20-acre private lot on Paper Road that rests directly across I-93 from the Littleton Regional Hospital.

The land parcel is currently undeveloped, and ten property abutters were notified about the potential project. A 50-foot by 72-foot fenced compound would enclose the tower and its related structures. Multiple telecommunications companies would be supported, including Verizon, AT&T, TMobile, SprintPCS and US Cellular.

An appeal period will remain open for thirty days after the Feb. 23 hearing. Rochefort said the board would review all incoming evidence to determine whether the appellants had any standing in their arguments.

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