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BOA OKs 180-foot cell tower

September 08, 2010
JEFFERSON — A Jefferson Board has given a green light to the erection of a cell tower atop Bray Hill over the objections of abutters.

At the end of a three-and-a-half-hour-long hearing on Thursday night, the Board of Adjustment (BOA) voted unanimously, 4 to 0, to grant U. S. Cellular of Nashua a special exception with a single waiver included, citing service to the broader public interest. The exception will allow U.S. Cellular's subcontractor, KJK Wireless of Nashua, to erect a 180-foot lattice-style telecommunications tower on top of Bray Hill.

The site on a 30-acre lot owned by Albert Maycut of 87 Albert's Drive is located near the Whitefield-Jefferson town line.

Before reaching their decision, BOA chairman Kim Perry and member Tom Walker, Jason Call, and Biff Wyman carefully threaded their way through the relevant sections of the town's land use ordinance, listened to the applicant's testimony, and heard mostly favorable comment from the public.

U.S. Cellular argued that 99 percent of Jefferson residents would be able to be served by the tower, pointing out that less than half are now well-served in a 50-square-mile area. Both the applicant and several Jefferson residents testified that cell phone users — residents, summer people, home-office businesses, and visitors — now depend on voice and data coverage. Access to wireless service is a fact of life in 2010, said a number of residents from various parts of town.

In rural areas where broadband access is limited, U. S. Cellular argued, cell phones provide Internet service through 3G (Third Generation) technology, allowing "texting" and sending of photos.

Three lawyers were on hand: Laura Spector, a member of the town's law of firm, the Mitchell Municipal Group of Laconia; Steve Grill of Devine Millimet of Manchester, representing U. S. Cellular; and Barry Schuster of Schuster, Buttrey & Wing of Lebanon, representing abutters Cliff and Felicia Sheehan.

Mr. and Mrs. Sheehan were not notified of a hearing on April 8, which was continued until June 24. At The June session, the BOA voted unanimously to grant permission for the tower to be built within 1,500 feet of residences and within 3 miles of another 90-foot-tall tower.

Both decisions became invalid, however, when the town learned that an error had been made and that the Sheehans were not properly notified. Thursday night's meeting was a de novo hearing, conducted as though an earlier hearing had not been held. Work on the cell tower was halted at the town's request.

U. S. Cellular argued that it and its subcontractors had chosen the best site for a cell tower, using both sensitivity to Jefferson's values and to those mountain vistas listed in the preamble to the town's ordinances.

The panoramic view from the Sheehan's' log cabin and 80-acre tract, much of which is cleared, will remain as is because the tower is sited behind their house, surrounded by a thick growth of tall trees, proponents pointed out.

The Sheehans, both Jefferson voters, countered that not only would their feeling of remoteness and near-wilderness be adversely affected but also that the tower would loom over their house as deciduous trees dropped their leaves and also as seen from the lower reaches of their sloping property.

The tower is tall enough to allow three competitors to locate arrays of long thin panels supported by braces as well as round microwave dishes, as is required both by the federal Telecommunication Act as amended in 1996 and Jefferson's own land use ordinance.

In the end, however, BOA members all agreed that the public's powerful interest in having access to today's communications technology far outweighs any of the abutter's objections. In essence, the BOA concluded that the Sheehan's objections are not "reasonable," as required under the town's ordinance.

General manager Christian Gainer of Santa's Village sent a letter in support of the tower, noting that Jefferson's economic future depended on access to today's communication technologies.

The Board also decided that the 90-foot broadband tower put up by NCIC that is fabricated from composite materials on Adam Girouard's nearby land is not a "tower" in the sense inferred in the town's land use ordinance, meaning that no waiver is required to deal with its being within three miles of the U. S. Cellular site.

A second similar tower has recently been erected on a Whitefield tract, so that there are now two towers within three miles of the U. S. Cellular site, neither of which the BOA decided is subject to the ordinance's three-mile rule.

The Sheehans also argued that their property values would be greatly diminished if a tower were built some 400-plus yards from their home, and they asked that the hearing be continued so they could present evidence supporting that concern as well as rebuttals to statements made in U. S. Cellular's presentation.

U. S. Cellular presented a stack of reports that its spokesman said refuted any loss of property value.

The town of Jefferson has no view tax, explained selectman Bruce Hicks, who works for Santa's Village. He also said that the board of selectmen had voted unanimously to support the siting of the telecommunications tower.

Despite the Mount Washington Regional Airport being located in Whitefield within three miles of the top of Bray Hill, a letter to the BOA from the Federal Aviation Administration states that no light is needed atop the tower. The airport board of directors favors the tower, saying that board members do not believe its presence would be an obstacle to safe flight.

As of Friday morning, Mr. and Mrs. Sheehan had not yet talked with their lawyer and had not decided whether or not they would appeal the BOA's decision in Superior Court.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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