by Larry Austin
Locating a new cell tower got a little easier Monday with the passage of an amendment to town code.
The Grand Island Town Board changed its regulations on setbacks required for towers, reducing the minimum radius needed within the tower's fall zone.
The move followed a public hearing on the matter that took place last month.
Section 407-169 (C) of town code was amended to read: "The tower must be set back a minimum from any residentially zoned property or any front yard line, and from any residential dwelling, school or historic structure, by a minimum of the lesser of one and a half times its height and any antenna attached thereto, or one and a half times the tower's highest pre-engineered breaking point, as certified by a licensed engineer in a manner acceptable to the town engineer."
The fall zone must have a radius "of at least equal to the lesser of one and a half times the height of such support tower and any antenna attached thereto, or one and a half times the tower's highest pre-engineered breaking point. ... The entire fall zone may not include public roads, must be on private property, either owned or leased by the applicant, or for which the applicant has obtained an easement."
John Cook of Autumnwood Drive asked the board why the subject on cell tower setback came up. Councilman Gary Roesch responded that the town is looking at locations for cell towers, and claimed that locations under consideration would not be applicable under the old fall zone regulation.
Cooke said GI's code on fall zones is "very onerous and if we were ever challenged it wouldn't stand up in court."
The change in the law, which reduces the setback from 500 feet, "more accurately reflects the actual science of how a tower falls down," Cooke noted. She said towers are engineered to break and fall straight down, rather than tip over.
"You're right when you say the top could collapse into the bottom, but the whole tower could fall," John Cook countered. The reduced setback changes the law "from better to worse," Cook said. Cook asked rhetorically if anyone in the audience would want a cell tower in his back yard.
Amending the code on the matter was the subject of a required public hearing last month
Later in Monday's meeting, the board approved the measure as local law No. 6 of 2014, moved by Roesch, and seconded by Councilman Ray Billica. Billica said it is "almost a requirement that we do this, because if we don't and we get challenged on it, we lose. "
"I'd rather not vote yes, but I don't think I have much choice."
Councilman Richard Crawford said that because cell phone carriers are classified by the federal government as public utilities, the town must allow alternate sites.
"We just can't tell them no, you can't put up any towers," Crawford said, adding that it has always been the Town Board's intent "to make these sites the safest for our community."
Cooke said while nobody wants a cell tower sited near their home, "we can't order them off the Island."
Cooke said a tower on the north end of the Island is needed to solve a coverage gap that has grown along with the increase in demand fueled by the popularity of smart phones.
"The whole market blew up exponentially," she said.
Regarding the old setback regulations, which reduced cell tower visibility, Cooke said, "There was a certain protection about that. It kept a tower further away."
Science trumped aesthetics Monday at Town Hall.
"Engineered breakpoints allow the tower to fall in a smaller predetermined are," Cooke said, and a smaller setback is possible.
She sympathized with residents who oppose having what they consider an unsightly tower near their homes.
"I agree. It's not a pleasant thing, and there was a certain amount of security in requiring that larger fall zone," Cooke said. "But it also eliminated possibilities that could be helpful. We're not happy either about having to site a tower."
The first meeting of next month on March 3 will include 11 public hearings, making for a potentially lengthy session.
"Bring your lunch," Roesch said.
Several of the public hearings concern dissolution of gas lighting districts. Cooke said the gas lights have started to fail and the gas company no longer maintains them. If the residents wish, they could establish new electric light districts, Cooke said, which would entail another process.
There is no meeting on the third Monday of February to allow the government to attend the annual Association of Towns meeting.
The board received letters from representatives of VFW Post No. 9249 and the Grand Island Rod & Gun Club in opposition to proposed Local Law Intro No. 3 of 2013 on public assembly permits. The board also received a letter from Robin and Bryce Shipman proposing that tourist homes be allowed in several districts, with a licensing fee.
The board removed an appointment to the Cable and Communications Committee from unfinished business on the agenda because there are no interested citizens wishing to serve on that committee, Cooke said.