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Cell tower struggle in Westford’s Brookside Village continues

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fletcher-club-brookside

T-Mobile’s push to install a 130 foot cellular tower in historic Brookside Village was met with an oppositional presentation Sept. 21 by a representative of the residential neighborhood.

Attorney Frances Parisi of Boston-based Varsity Wireless, LLC, and Dylan O’Connor of 3 Lambert Way, faced off Sept. 21 at a protracted Zoning Board of Appeals hearing that lasted more than an hour. Buffering the two opponents was a presentation by wireless communications expert David Maxson of Medfield-based Isotrope LLC, who has been hired by the board to advise on technical questions.

The proposed tower would be placed on the property of the H.E. Fletcher Social and Athletic Club at 11 Brookside Road. Lambert Way is off Lowell Road behind the club. T-Mobile Northeast LLC is seeking to “remedy a substantial gap in coverage that exists in the area surrounding the proposed facility,” according to the application.

Under the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 carriers have great latitude to impose their communications towers over residential homeowners who typically fight to keep them out.

Brookside Village neighbors in the Nabnasset section of town are no different. O’Connor presented technical information in combination with projected slides to debunk T-Mobile’s claim that it needs to fill a coverage gap in that part of town.

“The coverage gap…” said O’Connor, “is very superficial and does not specifically quantify user performance problems…”

But Parisi rebutted O’Connor’s claims.

“I certainly appreciate Mr. O’Connor’s passion…,” he said. “I just want to caution the board, not withstanding a very passionate presentation, there’s ample case law that suggests that non expert’s testimony isn’t really evidence that’s required to overcome a Telecommunications Act argument. I have full faith in Mr. Maxson’s ability to review the data that we provide…”

But Maxson said Varsity’s documents lacked “a number of details” needed for his review, including a thorough analysis of alternative sites.

“I was looking at sites within a reasonable radius,” said Maxson. “I came up with ‘A’ through ‘Q.’ I tried to identify the sites that were potentially larger parcels or wooded.”

Robert Herrmann, chairman of the ZBA, later noted that a resident who owns 4 local acres had expressed interest in speaking with Parisi about placing the cell tower on the property, but had not been approached by the carrier representative. Herrmann did not identify the landowner.

Parisi said he was aware of the 4-acre parcel. He countered that some alternative locations were not “viable,” but did not say whether he was referring to the specific parcel.

“It’s a long and arduous negotiation process,” Parisi said of his hunt for a suitable cell tower location. “…there might be constructible impediments, ledge and other things that make it impossible to build upon.”

Parisi rejected Maxson’s claim of 17 alternative locations.

“I’m quite certain frankly the majority of them can be relatively easily dismissed…some of them may take more time to vet,” Parisi said. Varsity is a wireless infrastructure developer.

The board is under a 150 day “shot clock” to act on the siting application or leave itself open to the possibility of litigation by the applicant. The countdown begins on the day an applicant files a completed application. The time limitation was the result of a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in January 2012 – a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in May 2013, which clarified Section 332(c)(7)(B) of the Communications Act. The original wording required local boards to react to the application within “a reasonable time,” without specifying a deadline.

Parisi acknowledged he has the option to take legal action if the board misses the deadline or denies the project, but stressed he is anticipating a positive decision and therefore not watching the clock. It is not clear whether Varsity has filed a completed application.

Brookside Village is described in the National Register of Historic Places as a “former mill village of 25 historic resources, including the former Brookside Woolen Mill, multiple unit worker housing, single unit residences, a granite dam, a bridge and five examples of modern construction.  Buildings are Colonial, Greek Revival, Queen Anne, Victorian Eclectic and Colonial Revival in style and are in poor to good condition.” The neighborhood is defined by the two-story Brookside mill. The mill’s oldest section was built of granite in 1862, according to the National Register.

In a letter dated Sept. 1 to selectmen, David Gutbrod, chairman of the Westford Historical Commission said members unanimously voted to send the following recommendation: “the construction of the proposed cell tower would have a significant negative impact on the historical character and fabric of the Historic District. As such, the Commission opposes the construction of the cell tower.”

Follow Joyce Pellino Crane on Twitter @joypellinocrane. Disclosure: the reporter and David Maxson were acquainted during college years and for a short while afterward.