A proposal from AT&T to build a 50-foot-high freestanding bell tower, or “campanile,” to house cellphone antennas at St. Peter’s Chapel on Old Stone Highway in Springs faced fierce opposition from the church’s neighbors during an East Hampton Town Planning Board public hearing on June 3. No one spoke in favor of the proposal.
In 2015, Cingular Wireless, now a subdivision of AT&T, had first sought to add a cell tower to the roof of the chapel by disguising it as a steeple. That plan was rejected by both the planning and architectural review boards.
Matthew Fitzgerald, a lawyer for AT&T, told the crowd that a cell tower is still needed to remedy a “complete” gap in cell coverage in the area. Over the past five years, he said, the company has considered seven different designs and 14 alternative sites. Based on “five years of substantial expert testimony,” the campanile proposal, he said, would be the least intrusive means to remedy the gap.
The planning board had determined in February that a 50-foot tower would not have a negative impact on its environment, and the town’s zoning board of appeals has granted AT&T a special permit to build near freshwater wetlands, as well as relief from fall-zone setbacks.
Valerie Coster, a neighbor, told the board the “unsightly and ungodly high” tower would indeed impact its environment, and would endanger the lives of those who, like her, live in the fall zone.
Laurie Anderson said she and her late husband, Lou Reed, had gravitated to the neighborhood in 2008 because of its history as an artists' enclave. “I just recently learned about this proposal, and I was shocked,” she said. “This plan is egregiously out of character with the community.”
Matthew Sargenti agreed and took issue with the renderings of the tower AT&T has provided the board, which, he said, do not factually depict the actual size and scope of the structure.
Rameshwar Das, a member of the Barnes Landing Association who lives “around the corner from the chapel,” referred board members to an email he had sent them. “To have this special community defaced by this grotesque campanile — transplanted from Plaza San Marco — is literally the height of bad taste,” he wrote.
“The 250 property owners of the Barnes Landing Association are opposed to this use of the chapel site.”
The public hearing remains open for written comments to the board until July 6.
In a separate hearing, the board determined that a proposal from the Springs Fire District to remove a 150-foot-tall tower behind its firehouse on Fort Pond Boulevard and replace it with one 30 feet taller will require further study of its environmental impacts.