A proposed cell phone tower on Brookside Road drew a packed house to the Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday night, and it appears to be the first of several meetings on the topic over the next few months.
Varsity Wireless came before the board requesting a special permit and dimensional waivers to build a 130-foot cell phone tower at the H.E. Fletcher Social and Athletic Club, citing a gap in cell phone coverage in the Nabnasset area.
Varsity Wireless spokesperson Francis Parisi told the board that over a year of work had been done to try and find a location in the area, with the nearby Rod and Gun Club almost being chosen as the site.
Ultimately, the Rod and Gun Club and half a dozen other sites proved to be unsuitable, with the F.E Fletcher Social Club being seen as the best option out of various bad options despite topographical weaknesses.
If approved, the tower would be located on a former overflow parking lot in the back of the property in what is being described as a rectangular fenced-off area.
T-Mobile will serve as the primary tenant on the tower, although under the town’s zoning bylaws, Varsity is required to at least seek other co-habitating service providers on the tower. Parisi told the board that he fully expects at least four cellular providers will seek access to the tower, with additional providers potentially being added at a later date.
Parisi’s argument for the tower’s special permit also focused on safety, as he told the board that the tower’s monopole design made it impossible to climb without specialized equipment, and that it was incapable of collapsing onto anything except itself.
Regarding safety, Parisi also stated that the tower would help first responders with E-911 coverage, telling the board that he recently suffered a collarbone injury while biking nearby. According to his story, a fellow cyclist could not obtain quality cell phone coverage in the area where he was injured and needed to travel a mile before obtaining emergency assistance.
A group of concerned neighbors calling themselves the Historic Brookside Residents Group also provided a presentation to the board voicing a variety of reasons why the special permit should not be given.
The group was led by Dylan O’Connor of Lambert Way and Greg Tiernan of Lowell Road.
Tiernan introduced the presentation and also spoke passionately against the tower at other moments in the evening, at one point asking if Parisi would buy his house on Lowell Road after potential decreases in property values from the tower’s installation.
O’Connor’s contribution focused on various data points refuting Varsity’s claims, ranging from the height (stating it would actually be 136 feet with a lightning rod) to health concerns over RF radiation, and the tower not keeping with the character of the surrounding Brookside Historic District.
Perhaps most notably, O’Connor took a map from T-Mobile’s website contradicting a separate map shown by Parisi indicating a gap within the portions of Westford away from Route 3 and I-495.
At this point in the meeting, O’Connor also played a commercial from T-Mobile reiterating that point, stating that T-Mobile’s network is now comparable to that of other providers, adding that it mentioned nothing about improved E-911 service.
ZBA member James Kazeniac praised O’Connor for his presentation and hoped that the depth of information could be boiled down into a streamlined set of questions for the next meeting.
Other questions were also obtained from members of the board and members of the audience, with ZBA chairman Robert Hermann indicating that Parisi would be given an opportunity to gather answers to any and all questions posed during this preliminary hearing.
In order to help obtain answers, the board also approved funding for independent peer review studies on the project.
Herrmann also reminded those in attendance that there will likely be another two to three meetings at minimum regarding the proposed tower due to a 150-day review period following the complete submission of a cell phone tower special permit request.
At times during the meeting though, it was unclear if the 150-day clock had officially begun, as Town Planner Jeff Morrissette told the board that the town was still waiting on some documents from Varsity in the permitting process.
Parisi believed that the bulk of the documentation needed for the formal permit submission had been made, with some of the missing material submitted just before the beginning of the meeting itself.
Due to the large turnout of this month’s meeting, the Zoning Board of Appeals’ next meeting on Aug. 17 is scheduled to take place in the Cameron Senior Center. The tower also needs review from several other boards in town as well.
Additional information is available on the Zoning Board of Appeals page of the town website.
Video of the meeting will be available at westfordcat.org.