After two years of silence, the Springs Fire Department has filed updated plans to build a cell tower at its headquarters at 179 Fort Pond Boulevard.
“This Application submission is intended to supersede and replace the preexisting application by Elite which was subject to the Positive Declaration issued by the Town Board on July 23, 2020. With this filing, Elite withdraws the prior application, and respectfully requests that this new Application be considered in its place.”
So read the letter from Elite Towers, dated Sept. 8 and sent to Jeremy Samuelson, the planning director for the East Hampton Town Planning Department. It marks the beginning of a new chapter in what has been, at times, an acrimonious battle over the tower.
But a whiff of acrimony remained in the letter, which reminded the planning department of a 2009 Federal Communications Commission Declaratory Ruling regarding timely review.
That ruling says if the Town fails to act within 150 days, the applicant may file suit. The clock starts ticking on the 150-day timeline once the town’s wireless consultant, Cityscape, has reviewed the application and deemed it complete. Cityscape received the application last week and has 30 days to complete its review. Roughly, the review by consultant and town should be complete by spring.
A lot has changed since July 2020, when it was ordered that the previous application for a 185-foot tower, which required 30 variances, needed to undergo an extensive environmental review. Perhaps the most important change was that the “double fall zone” requirement for the placement of cell towers was removed from the town code.
In fact, last September, the town unveiled a “Wireless Service Update” and specifically called out the Springs Fire Department tower as necessary for the improvement of wireless service in Springs. Springs has both one of the most significant gaps in coverage for personal wireless service and the highest population density of a town area with such a gap. “A new, centrally located, roughly 150-foot-tall tower would likely require zero variances,” the update read.
It seems Elite Towers read the update carefully.
The company is proposing the dismantling of the existing 150-foot tower, which has been the locus of much discord, and raising it again at a location at the center of the parcel — close to, if not exactly where — the town recommended. The pole is about four feet wide at the top. Changing the tower’s position would shift the “fall zone” so it would be entirely on fire department property while also bringing it into compliance with pyramid restrictions. The nearest property line would be about 163 feet to the rear.
A radio-frequency report dated July 22 and submitted by Enterprise Engineering states that the objective of the pole would be “to improve the communications system of the Springs Fire Department within and around the Hamlet of Springs,” allowing firefighters “to better perform their duties.” In addition, there would be room on the monopole for personal wireless carriers. Verizon, DISH Wireless, T-Mobile, and Nextel have all indicated interest in locating antennas on the pole.
“The proposed antennas will produce approximately 8.5 square miles of excellent service within the township with approximately 80 percent of that service within the Hamlet of Springs. Additionally, the proposed antennas will also produce approximately 30 square miles of good service throughout the entire Town of East Hampton,” read the report.
In addition to the relocated tower, Elite Towers wants to install a 30-by-70-foot “equipment compound to be utilized by public utilities on the pole as well as the landowner Springs Fire District in conjunction with associate improvements.”
The Springs Fire Department is located on a 2.95-acre parcel of land, dominated by the fire department building and parking lot. But, as proposed, the 30-by-70-foot equipment compound would be placed on what is now a fully wooded portion of the property. It would contain a transformer mounted on a concrete pad, and a 10-foot-by-20-foot area for “existing relocated fire district equipment.” Besides three small structures, it would be filled in with gravel and surrounded by a six-foot-tall chain-link fence.
Mr. Samuelson was waiting for the Cityscape report before commenting on the size of the equipment compound. “I look forward to seeing what information and analysis is contained in the technical report from Cityscape,” he said, via text.
The fire department property is zoned for “neighborhood business” and is surrounded by residences. While the homeowners to the north may be happy to see the current pole, which is only 26 feet from their property line, relocated, it is not clear yet if the residents will be supportive of the application.
It has been nearly 10 years since the Springs Fire Department started the process of erecting a tower on its property. A building permit it received in October 2014 was subsequently revoked in 2015 by the Zoning Board of Appeals after neighbors complained. By that time, however, the pole was already built.
The fire department sued the Z.B.A., but, in 2020, the New York State Supreme Court upheld the Z.B.A.’s decision. That led to the fire department’s July 2020 reapplication, which was stymied by the planning board’s position that it would require extensive environmental review.
In the meantime, the town settled on a location at the former Camp Blue Bay for the erection of a pole that would serve its emergency communications needs; with that, the fire department pole lost one of its main functions.
Ed Schnell, the town’s emergency communications director, surveyed the tower at Camp Blue Bay a few weeks ago and found it was still incomplete. “It’s really up to the phone companies, at this point,” he said in a phone call. “It looks like AT&T has their equipment installed, but they don’t have any power from P.S.E.G.”
“The town’s emergency equipment hasn’t been bought yet. We’re waiting on Motorola for a quote a lot longer than we should have been,” Mr. Schnell said. “Our hope is to be operational by next summer, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen.”