MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Supervisor Ken Schmitt told residents of Walton Drive last week that he and the Town Board will continue to negotiate with Homeland Towers in an effort to have a planned cell tower moved farther away from their homes.
The town signed an out-of-court settlement earlier this year after Homeland sued the town in the wake of the Planning Board’s rejection of a site-plan application to build a tower on residential property on Croton Falls Road.
The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan where the judge urged the two parties to come to an agreement. The town, fearing it would lose the case—the weight of law was behind Homeland due to the Telecommunication Act of 1996, which gives local municipalities very little power in such matters—and would cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in a quixotic effort, opted to settle.
The homeowners’ association at Maple Hill Estate voted to allow the cell tower on its development, offering up three possible locations as part of the out-of-court settlement.
However, apparently unbeknownst to town officials, Homeland chose a site at the edge of the Maple Hill border. It abuts Walton Drive and puts the tower right on top of the homeowners who live there.
At the Town Board’s Aug. 12 meeting, residents of Walton Drive and other nearby streets showed up en masse and excoriated the board for signing the settlement without first inspecting the location. At that meeting, Schmitt told the residents the town would continue to negotiate with Homeland in an effort to have them move the tower to one of the other two proposed Maple Hill locations.
“We are continuing the dialogue with them,” Schmitt told the group last week, when the homeowners returned for the board’s Aug. 26 meeting. “Our hope is we are going to come to an agreement to have them relocate that tower from where it’s currently proposed—somewhere farther back, away from the homes on Walton Drive.
“I wanted you to know we just didn’t walk away from the meeting on Aug.12 and do nothing,” he continued. “In fact, I was up there the other day and walked the site. I want you to know that we, the Town Board and town counsel, are doing everything that we can do to mitigate the issue. We are also in discussion with the attorney for Homeland Towers.”
Mahopac News obtained a copy of the out-out-court settlement, which is signed by town attorney Greg Folchetti, Homeland attorney Robert Gaudioso, and District Court Judge Philip Halpern, and asked some local attorneys unassociated with the case whether such a settlement could be reversed in court. They all agreed that could only be done if town officials could prove they were duped into signing it or signed it under duress.
At the Aug. 28 meeting, a Walton Drive resident questioned Schmitt. “I believe you’re sincere [in wanting to get Homeland to move the tower], but why would Homeland want to listen to you now after you’ve already made a settlement?” Gerard Hanrahan asked. “When they were on the block, they said to one of our neighbors, ‘We have more money, we can fight this forever.’ They’ve won already; why would they even want to move it an inch for you?”
Schmitt said he couldn’t go into details, but considers a change possible.
“I believe there are reasons,” he said. “In good faith, they should work with us. I believe we should work together collectively to come up with a solution to this. I am hoping they are willing to do that and there are reasons that they should that I don’t want to get into tonight.”
Town attorney Folchetti added, “Homeland would see it as a sound business decision. That’s the town’s thought on it.
Schmitt said he understands the town won’t be able to remove the tower completely from the Maple Hill condos parcel, but can “certainly attempt to do everything we can do to move it farther away from where it is currently being proposed”
“I’ve had conversations with the president of Homeland Towers and our counsel Greg Folchetti has had conversations with their attorney, Robert Gaudioso, with respect to this matter and Gaudioso said he has watched the meeting of Aug. 12,” Schmitt said. “So, he’s heard your concerns.”--
Construction is set to begin somewhere between the middle and the end of October. State law dictates that construction can’t start until then due to the protection of the northern long-eared bat. The permit is good for 18 months.
“It just seems like Homeland is trying to muscle itself in using the FCC laws,” resident Patrick Coleman told the board. “I know you guys are trying to fight this. Use whatever ammo you guys can to get them to reconsider the positioning of that tower. I know they are not going to go away from that site altogether but I think there is a better location there.”
“I want you to know that we are taking this very seriously,” Schmitt said. “We want something done with that tower.”