MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The Planning Board has denied two controversial site-plan applications to build cell towers in residential neighborhoods in Mahopac.
The decision comes on the heels of the Zoning Board of Appeals’ denial last month of three variance requests for each application that sought relief from town code requirements for the tower heights, the equipment-compound fence height and the width of the access roads.
The board voted unanimously on Oct. 30 against Danbury, Conn.-based Homeland Towers’ bid to build a tower on Croton Falls Road and one on Dixon Road. Residents in both neighborhoods have fought the proposals since Day One, saying they would be an aesthetic blight and lower property values. While the board did cite those contentions as some of the reasons it rejected the applications, many of its members also said they felt that Homeland did not prove there was a need for the towers and that cell coverage was adequate in those areas.
“I am personally not sold on the dropped-call [argument],” said Craig Paeprer, board chair. “I have driven up and down Croton Falls Road many times and personally I haven’t lost a call. But I would rather lose a call for 30 seconds than have to wake up in the morning and look at that [tower].”
Board member Kim Kugler voiced a similar concern about the Dixon Road plan.
“I spend a lot of time at [nearby] McDonough Park and never had any dropped calls, so I don’t understand why this tower is necessary,” she said.
All board members were unanimous in the view that the towers would indeed be an eyesore for homeowners and would likely lower property values, despite Homeland’s contention that they would not lower values and could actually increase them. At the center of the argument was a study on real estate values submitted by Homeland known as the Lane Report, versus a series of letters submitted by veteran local real estate agents who asserted that the towers would negatively impact property values near the towers.
“On the issue of real estate valuations, I reviewed Homeland’s Lane Report material and the broker letters supplied by Mr. [Anthony] Campanelli (counsel representing neighbors of the proposed towers) and I found the broker letters to be more persuasive,” said board member Robert Frenkel.
Board member Raymond Cote said he also took exception to Lane Report appraisals, which he called “woefully inadequate,” adding that they didn’t take into consideration many factors, such as the age of the house, the amenities, the type of house, and the size of the property that the house is on.
“We have the sale price, but it doesn’t tell us what the purchase price was,” he said. “For me, the Lane appraisals don’t tell us very much. Would I want to buy a house next to a cell tower? I don’t think so.”
The Planning Board also agreed with the residents that the towers would be an aesthetic blight on their neighborhoods.
“I find it appalling that these residents are being visually impacted,” said board member Kim Kugler. “The day of the crane test (when a crane is raised to simulate the height of the tower), I went to some of the sites and could see for myself the impact it has on the residents. There is a resident who lives in a 1700s-[era] home who will be visually impacted by this every single day. When they bought their home, this is not what they [expected] and I find it unfair that they would have to see this. Considering these aspects, that is why I’m [voting to deny] this application.”
Board members said that although Homeland Towers provided photos of the crane and balloon tests to illustrate that the visual impact would be minimal, they argued that the photos were taken from the streets and other common areas and not from the affected properties that would have provided the homeowners’ point of view
“What is missing are photographs taken from the properties most affected by this, including the property owner who is going to be at the base of this monstrosity,” Cote said.
Robert Gaudioso, the attorney representing Homeland, argued that no one asked them to take such photos and that the photos Homeland did submit met the required criteria. But the board was unmoved by that argument and reiterated that Homeland should have sought out more palatable locations for the towers, other than residential neighborhoods.
“Based on the Zoning Board’s decision, along with my own analysis, the application does not conform with the town code,” Cote said. “I also do not believe that the applicant has satisfied their burden as set forth [in the town code]. I don’t understand why I’ve never heard why other sites were not equally as viable. I can think of other sites in the area which would be better.”
“I feel this would have a huge negative effect on the community,” he said. “I have to think that there are better alternatives. It conflicts very much with our town code, whether it’s the aesthetics or the height or trying to find a commercial [zone] location.”
“We’ve had many meetings about this and have heard all sides. Ultimately, this board represents the people of this town and these cell towers would adversely affect the people in this town, in my opinion,” added board member Anthony Giannico. “I understand the need for the technology, but I don’t think there’s been a good compromise here.”
Bob Buckley, who helped organized the neighborhoods to rally against the towers by holding numerous meetings, creating a Facebook page and hiring an attorney, said he was pleased with the decision.
“I’m relieved that both the planning and zoning boards took their time and evaluated all the facts and based their decisions to deny the application on solid grounds, hopefully preventing Homeland Towers from proceeding to federal court,” he told Mahopac News.
Buckley had high praise for Campanelli, the residents’ attorney who has spent much of his legal career battling cell tower applications.
“I was pleased with the expertise of Mr. Campanelli,” Buckley said. “When you go against a well-funded company with their hired guns like Homeland Towers, you have to bring in top counsel to match them. He did a phenomenal job clarifying the record when Homeland Towers was being disingenuous.”
Buckley said he knows there is a strong possibility that Homeland will appeal the town’s decisions and said if that happens, the residents will be ready.
“If Homeland Towers decides to file paperwork in federal court the residents are prepared to continue this fight with our counsel,” he said. “The fight is not over until Homeland understands that cell towers will not be placed in residential neighborhoods in Mahopac.”