BEDFORD, N.Y. - Downtown Katonah will likely be a test bed for a new breed of utility pole that provides not only cellphone transmissions but also green-energy storage, electric-vehicle charging and smart lighting.
All told, Totem Power Inc., a Bedford Hills-based telecommunications startup, plans to put up three, and perhaps four, of the multi-technology columns. At least one of them will be in Katonah and two others in Bedford Hills, all of them on town-owned land.
The poles, said to be far shorter and generating much less power than typical cellphone towers, will rise in Katonah’s public parking lot No. 2 and, in Bedford Hills, on Green Lane and at the Adams Street post office. The Town Board last week rejected a second proposed Katonah site, near the gazebo, but an alternative location is being considered.
Appearing before the board, Brian Lakamp, Totem’s founder and chief executive, described his three-year-old startup as “a small-cell solutions provider. We’re doing quite a bit of work in Westchester right now deploying small cells, mostly enterprise small cells.”
Totem says its technology “provides the foundation for reshaping smart utilities in an integrated, visually stunning product designed for the living spaces of communities, instead of relegating it to only rooftops and garages.”
Lakamp said diverse technologies are “all embedded in the unit itself.” Depending on available space, they could include distributed renewable-energy generation and storage, a reliable hub for WiFi, 4G and, likely, 5G cellular services and electric-vehicle charging, helping to lay the groundwork for a fundamental shift in transportation infrastructure.
Lakamp’s presentation drew a warm reception from the board and a heated dissent from one resident. Upset by “the tenor of this conversation,” he cited serious health concerns and vowed electoral vengeance on any board member who supported the Totem installation.
Depending on how much technology they pack in, Totem’s poles could range in height from 18 feet to about 45 to 48 feet. More commonly, a 24-foot Totem Ribbon configuration would be topped by a streetlight; the standard configuration, a 36-foot high column roughly the height of today’s average streetlight-only pole—can accommodate three cellphone carriers. Even a 48-foot column, tall enough to house all cellphone service providers, would be far below the most common cellphone towers, which range in height from 100 to 200 feet.
Totem’s technology pillars, Lakamp said, would sit on 1-by-3-foot concrete footings, their depth varying with the height of the pole it supports.
The Town Board, in a 5-0 vote, gave “conceptual approval” to three of Totem’s four proposed installations. “Specific locations have not been settled upon,” Supervisor Chris Burdick said in an email later, “because [Planning Director] Jeff Osterman and Totem Power Inc. will meet at each site to determine the most appropriate location – for example, if we want an EV charging station, then proximity to a NYSEG pole is critical.”
The board rejected Totem’s fourth proposed location, near the gazebo at the Metro-North railroad’s Katonah station, but will search for another site in the hamlet.
While the May 21 vote does not officially greenlight Totem’s project, it does give Lakamp enough municipal support to begin soliciting major cell-phone carriers, presenting what he calls a reimagined and redesigned smart utility.
Under the terms of the deal, Bedford will provide the town-owned sites. Totem, for its part, will cover all costs of installation and ongoing maintenance.
The vote followed what David Fletcher, a Bedford Hills resident, termed his “harangue.” In it he upbraided the board’s deliberations, saying, “I am totally disgusted by the tenor of this conversation.
“You’ve got to put a little emotion and feeling into it,” Fletcher said, and for the next several minutes he did just that.
“These things cause cancer,” he insisted, and “destroy equity and property values. Those are the two things that matter.”
Denouncing an expected upgrade from fourth-generation cellphone technology to fifth generation, Fletcher said, “The difference between 4G and 5G is mega in terms of health and well-being and property decline... So you want to kick in 5G and poison people?”
Fletcher vowed to work extensively to deny re-election to any board member voting in favor of the Totem proposal. “If you wish to go in this direction,” he warned, “you [will] have an enormous enemy in me... I will make it my great effort to assure that none of you are [re-elected], ever again.”
By the time the board voted minutes later, Fletcher had left the meeting room.
His was the only voice raised in opposition to Totem’s entire pilot project. Councilwoman Lee V.A. Roberts, a Katonah resident, said she was “leery” of the proposed gazebo site before the board rejected it.
As Lakamp described the sleek, modern columns’ aesthetic appeal, she asked, “Do you have any other designs that are more Victorian for Katonah?”
After the board had given conceptual approval to three test locations but not the gazebo site in Katonah, Councilwoman MaryAnn Carr, a Bedford Hills resident, said, “For the record, I’d like to say I’m in favor of all four [sites].”