Just the mention of a cellular tower on school property made School Committee member David Keele cringe and prompted the rest of the members to vote down any discussion of the possibility.
“I’m stunned,” Keele said. “Don’t they recognize how many people are going to be here at the meeting? I’m stunned. I’m not quite sure what they’re thinking.”
The matter was introduced Nov. 21 at the School Committee meeting by Superintendent Everett “Bill” Olsen. Olsen said Attorney Frances Parisi of Boston-based Varsity Wireless, LLC, had contacted him to gauge interest in placing the tower in the field behind the Nabnasset Elementary School on Plain Road.
Parisi’s communication with Olsen is the outgrowth of an application pending before the Zoning Board of Appeals to place a 130 foot tower on the grounds of the H.E. Fletcher Social and Athletic Club at 11 Brookside Road. 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, which was filed July 13.
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. ZBA members have hired a wireless communications expert to advise on technical questions.
But Brookside neighbors are vehemently opposed to the tower in their neighborhood and Parisi responded to the resistance by researching other possible locations. Varsity is a wireless infrastructure developer.
“It was the town who suggested he talk to us to see if we were willing to site a cell tower on the Nabnasset property in the woods. Nothing is proposed,” Olsen said, meaning there has been no formal application filed to place the cell tower on school property.
Under the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 carriers have great latitude to place their communications towers in residential neighborhoods.
But the law’s clout held no weight with the seven-member School Committee.
Speaking of Parisi, Olsen said the attorney went to an unidentified town official who said “if you have a problem with neighborhood resistance in the Fletcher Club area…” to look elsewhere.
Keele mocked the statement to laughter by his fellow committee members.
“IF you have a problem! IF you have a problem!” he said.
Westford is in the midst of a divisive struggle over the push by a Nashua businessman to build and operate an asphalt plant on Groton Road. A six-year court battle ended last month with a behind-closed-doors settlement between the Board of Selectmen and Richard DeFelice. When the agreement was announced on Oct. 6, residents took to the streets on three occasions in protest, carrying signs and calling for selectmen to reverse their decision. A public hearing that went on for almost seven hours on Oct. 25 made it clear that the 800 attending residents wanted the settlement nullified. The residents demanded that town officials continue fighting DeFelice in court. The rancor and contention aimed at selectmen over the past two months has not been lost on the School Committee.
Member Tom Clay quickly put the cell tower matter to rest.
“If we’re all pretty sure it’s a zero in terms of political viability,” he said, “then let’s spend our time on something else…I move that we belay discussion of the cell tower because our schedule is so full of valuable stuff to work on.”
The vote was unanimous.