MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Mahopac residents finally had the opportunity to express their feelings publicly on plans to build two cell towers in residential neighborhoods last week and the anger and despair was palpable.
The Planning Board held public hearings for each project—one slated for 254 Croton Falls Road and the other for 36 Dixon Road. Neighbors criticized the plans on several fronts, contending the towers would reduce property values in residential neighborhoods; would destroy the aesthetics of the bucolic communities; and, in the case of the Croton Falls Road tower, intrude on a potential nationally historic adjacent property.
Gail Fiero, a resident of Croton Falls Road, said Homeland Towers, the Danbury-based company that would build the towers on behalf of Verizon, may have to go back to square one in the site-plan approval process because the adjoining property was the site where a renowned American novelist wrote his most acclaimed book.
“There is a problem with...the applications because I have a letter from the state Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation that says 294 Croton Falls Road was the home that Richard Yates, the famous author, lived in. All of Homeland’s applications are going to have to be redone, I think.”
Fiero presented a letter from the state’s Division for Historic Preservation, written by William Krattinger, an analyst for the Historic Preservation Program. The letter states that the agency “has made careful assessment of these resources as they relate to potential State and National Register of Historic Places eligibility and has concluded that they satisfy the criteria for listing. More specifically, the property appears to satisfy Criterion A, in the area of literature for its direct…association with Yates’ 1961 book, which was authored while the Yates family resided there.”
Yates wrote his most famous novel, “Revolutionary Road,” a candidate for the National Book Award, while living there.
“The eligibility of the Yates-related residence should be taken into consideration relative to any action that triggers these historic preservation laws,” Krattinger wrote.
Residents also told the board that the Croton Falls Road tower would have an adverse effect on their property values, although Homeland said it has several studies that maintain it does not lower values and, in some cases, may elevate them.
Emily Swanson, who lives on Weber Hill Road about 1,000 feet from the proposed tower, said she and her partner were first-time homeowners looking to restore an old, historic home. She said the proposed placement of the tower would be devastating.
“We thought our biggest challenge would be bringing back the character of our historic house, which existed decades before cell towers even existed” Swanson told the board. “Instead, this cell tower has been an enigma and a source of anxiety in our home and making us revisit our long-term plans and whether we will continue to live in this area in which I was born and raised. Our home has been a major investment like the many folks who are here tonight. But it seems like one neighbor has other plans for all of us.
“We are not prepared to have our home’s value adversely affected so others can collect a check,” she continued. “Is the town prepared to give everyone within 1,000 feet a tax break? Commercial activity of this scale and nature has no place in residential areas.”
Ron Leviner, a Stacy Lane resident, said Homeland’s claim to have studies that indicate cell towers don’t impact property values doesn’t make sense.
“Homeland mentioned an analysis for the loss of property value. I am not an expert, but I certainly have an instinct on the topic and anyone who has been a homeowner in this town or anywhere else has a feel about whether...that analysis is unbiased,” he said. “What kind of assurances can Homeland provide us with respect to the integrity of their analysis?”
Jennifer Simon, another Weber Hill resident, echoed Leviner’s sentiments, saying she has evidence that shows cell towers impact neighboring property values in a significantly negative way.
“I know Homeland has stated that they have lots of studies that show home values increase within a radius of the tower. The science says otherwise,” she said. “I would like to know who conducted those studies and if they will be made available to us.”
Simon then presented her own studies.
“According to the National Association of Realtors, Journal of Finance and Economics, National Association of Appraisal Institute, and the National Institute of Public Policy, that’s not true,” she said. “According to them, there is a significant social welfare cost in putting cell towers near homes, with declining values at 2.5 percent on average. For homes in view of those towers, the decline is 9.7 percent.”
Simon also said that should that happen, homeowners would need to be compensated.
“If this does go through, I’d like to know how the properties directly abutting this property will be compensated for that value loss,” she said. “Will there be any sort of tax incentive? There is precedent for this in other towns and counties across the United States and I would like to know if I am going to be compensated for the loss of the resale value of my home.”
Residents of Dixon Road were represented by Brittney Lane homeowner Robert Montanoro, who told the board he also researched the claim that the property values in the shadow of a cell tower are unaffected or increased.
“I have heard about Homeland claiming that no property values are damaged or even increased, so just on the rare instance that an attorney for a for-profit corporation is either giving misleading information or making a mistake, we thought we would do our own homework.”
Montanoro said he polled a half-dozen real estate agents on the cell-tower issue.
“[Real estate agents] make their money based on a percentage [of the sale], so you would think they would want a cell tower, at least according to Homeland, in everybody’s front yard,” he told the Planning Board. “But what did we find? We found quite the opposite. They agreed that [values] decrease. What they could not agree on was the percentage. So, we got percentages as much as a 10 percent decrease in these adjacent homes to up as much as 30 percent.”
Montanoro said that as many as 30 homes would be affected should the Dixon Road tower be built.
“The estimated [property value] loss between all those homes is $3 million,” he said. “Those same 30 homes pay $500,000 in taxes to this town every year. These numbers are staggering and certainly large enough to consider for litigation.”
Montanoro said he would also provide the board with a brief containing statements from residents describing the aesthetic impact the tower would have on them.
“In our brief, you will get various aesthetic letters from these homeowners about what it is doing to destroy the beauty of where they live,” he said. “Some of them have said they simply want to sell and get out.
“To add insult to injury, the rent for this tower is going to go to a private individual instead of looking for alternative sites in the town where the town would be the landlord, collect the money and perhaps use it to hold down the taxes that all the people in this town are paying,” he added.
Homeland was expected to appear before the Zoning Board of Appeals Thursday night (Aug. 22) for variances for the two projects, including ones for the height of the fences that would enclose the equipment compounds and for the width of the driveways leading to them.
The public hearing was left open and the Planning Board will reconvene it on Sept. 11.