ZBA approves Bristol cell tower plan
November 10, 2010
BRISTOL—After a false start in its first attempt, last week Maxton Technologies succeeded in obtaining approval for the multiple variances required from the Bristol Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to enable them to move forward with plans to build a 190-foot cell tower on leased land owned by the town off Chestnut Street.
An earlier hearing had been cancelled when it was learned that some of the abutters had not been properly notified. There is a 30-day period for opponents of the plan to file an appeal after the decision. The site proposal has also yet to be reviewed by the Bristol Planning Board before final approval is given.
The members of the ZBA unanimously approved required variances for the cell tower plan, including the height variance from the 85-foot maximum height restriction ordinarily applicable under zoning regulations.
ZBA members indicated that they regarded the plan as being clearly in the best interests of the public and the citizens of Bristol.
While recognizing that construction of the towers in a residential neighborhood would impact the viewshed of some residents to some degree, the members felt that the benefits to Bristol in terms of increasing essential communications for customers and businesses in the downtown area and improving the overall public safety by reducing response times for emergency responders outweighed other considerations and justified granting the variances.
The board heard lengthy testimony from many concerned stakeholders, including the Bristol Fire Chief, Steve Yannuzzi, who testified that the cell tower would improve emergency communications, shortening response times and enabling EMS personnel to use critical wireless heart monitoring technologies while en route to the hospital.
In exchange for some consideration on the first years of its $850 monthly lease payments to the town, Maxton Technologies has agreed to dedicate the top 20 feet of the tower for Bristol emergency communications equipment, at no cost to the town, and will pay $53,000 for replacement of outmoded existing equipment currently located on a tower on Hemp Hill.
In addition to rent from the company, the town of Bristol stands to reap additional revenues from taxation on the commercial use of the tower.
Bristol businessman Vincent Migliore testified that in his opinion, increased cell tower coverage in downtown Bristol will help to improve the prospects for attracting new business to town.
The board also heard testimony from an independent real estate appraiser, Andrew LeMay, hired by Maxton, who has completed a comprehensive study of the impact of cell tower construction on the property values of abutters in a diverse set of New Hampshire towns and cities. The study concludes that there has been no negative impact on either the price or selling time of the properties in the area of a new cell tower.
ZBA member Michael Willingham, a real estate professional intimately familiar with studies of this kind, said that he was impressed by the thoroughness of the analysis and persuaded by the data.
ZBA Chairman and real estate agent Alan DeStefano agreed that the reports was "well written and thoroughly researched."
However, these assurances did little to calm the fears of several dozen abutters who showed up for the hearing.
Local residents said they were uncertain about the potential health hazards posed by the tower, concerned about noise, upset about the visual impact and unconvinced that the tower would not lower property values.
Representatives for Maxton testified that there will be no noise from the communications on the tower, and that the health impacts have been extensively studied, so that they could assure residents of Bristol that there will be no danger. Cell towers are routinely built in densely developed neighborhoods. Maxton employees testified that Federal Communications authorities would not license a facility that would pose any threat to the public health.
Abutters were also unconvinced by the results from a "balloon test" simulation of the visual impact of the tower, conducted last weekend and presented during the hearing. Many residents said they were unaware of the balloon test, and felt that the computer models presented did not assure them about the view from their specific properties.
Jim Nyberg, from the Slim Baker Natural Area Board, said that he opposed the tower because it would clearly be visible from scenic Inspiration Point, as well as several downtown Bristol locations.
Opponents of the plan, led by abutter David Gallagher, said that they would we willing to go to court to fight the cell tower.
The zoning board did apply certain conditions to their approval of the proposal, requiring the company to come back before the board in the event that the Federal Aviation Administration requires that the cell tower be lighted at night