Pittsford Planning Commission Meeting
October 24, 2019
Board Members Present: Kevin Blow, Mark Winslow, Ted Gillen, David Soulia, Rick Conway, Chuck Charbonneau
Also in Attendance: Jeff Biasuzzi – Zoning Administrator, Bob Hession, Kathie Hession, Wendy Wood, Lillian Jackson, Ursula Hirschmann, Rolf Hirschmann, Tom Valach, Shane Racette, Martin Markowski, Lynn Markowski, Keith Eddy, Ed Whillin (sp?), Diane Racette, Ernie Racette, Kristen Mahoney, Jennille Smith, Henry Mahoney, Michael Sullivan
1. Call to order
The meeting was called to order at 7:03PM by Mark Winslow – Acting Chair.
2. Approval of Agenda
A motion was made by David Soulia and seconded by Kevin Blow to approve the agenda. The motion passed unanimously.
3. Approval of Minute
. September 26, 2019
A motion was made by David Soulia and seconded by Kevin Blow to approve the minutes of the September 26, 2019 Planning Commission meeting. The motion passed with two abstentions – David Soulia and Chuck Charbonneau.
4. Review of AT & T Cell Tower Proposal – 604 Oxbow Road from PUC
Jennille Smith of Centerline Communications was present to provide a presentation on a proposed AT & T cell tower at 604 Oxbow Road. AT & T is proposing to put a telecommunications tower on Kit and Lillian Hudson’s property to provide additional service. The tower will be 140 feet and will have a five-mile coverage radius. It will be a straight pole on a 50’ x 50’ leased area with equipment and a generator. The utilities will come from the right of way and the Hudsons will sign a lease for a right of way access for a 30-year period. Ms. Smith had packets available to provide information on the viewsheds. The abutting property owners have received this information. The 60-day Advance Notice has been done, but no application to the PUC has been submitted.
Bob Hession asked if the tower will be lit at night. Ms. Smith advised that it will most likely not be lit as the FAA’s criterion is 200 feet or higher to be lit at night. Michael Sullivan asked if AT & T is the first responder and Ms. Smith advised that AT & T won the bid over several carriers and they are responsible for providing coverage in rural areas. Shane Racette asked if they tried to use other towers and if so, what ones were researched. Ms. Smith stated there was one existing tower that was considered, but she did not have the information on that tower. Mr. Racette noted in the Pittsford Zoning, there is a requirement for providers to prove there is no other existing tower within 30 miles of Town. There is an 80-foot tower on Sangamon Road and one behind Gagnon’s. Ms. Smith stated to determine a tower location, the coordinates are reviewed for the search range to determine where coverage is needed, and the parameter would be approximately 3.5 miles from the center of the range determined. A review of the properties was done, and potential candidates were determined. This property provides prime coverage of the candidates reviewed.
Mark Winslow advised that comments from this discussion will be submitted to the Select Board who will be revisiting this proposal at their November 6th meeting. Diane Racette questioned what property b and c would were. Ms. Smith stated it is proprietary information that AT & T owns, and she needs to determine if it can be provided. It was asked why there needs to be a tower when there is coverage in Town and Ms. Smith advised that as part of the FirstNet project, there were areas determined as optimal service for emergency/first responder services. Even when there is coverage and capacity, if there is an overload capacity it could cause an issue. Concern was noted as to why another tower is needed when the Town has good to excellent service and it was questioned if one of the existing towers could be expanded upon. Ms. Smith stated there was an existing tower considered as a backup. Kristen Mahoney asked if the tower near Proctor was considered and what tower is being used currently. Ms. Smith was not sure of the closest AT & T tower. Wendy Wood asked about the radiation or power emitted by the tower and whether there were any health concerns. Ms. Smith stated the radio frequency waves are large and do not penetrate the cell walls. There are FCC regulations of what can and can’t be emitted and the radio frequency waves are very low. Ms. Wood asked if that was confirmed for those properties closest to the tower and Ms. Smith stated that was confirmed. Lynn Markowski did not understand why a tower was needed and if a five-mile radius was required, why the location was not higher. Ms. Smith stated there are some towers that go on top of the mountain, but those would be lit, and they did not want to do that. Ms. Markowski noted concern of a reduction in the property value of the homes in the area with the addition of the tower and suggested the use of one of the existing towers by increasing them. Ms. Markowski thought 911 is a smokescreen and she has not heard of anyone calling 911 and not getting a response. Ms. Smith stated the search range went out 2 miles and if there was an existing tower outside that range, they would not have considered it. Ms. Markowski asked if it is possible that the reason for this location is that AT & T does not have to put money into building a road. Ms. Smith noted there are many considerations in choosing a location and as far as the tower affecting property values, there are pros and cons to the project. Ms. Markowski noted she has a $1.2 million house for sale, and this will possibly bring the property value down 25%. She thought that AT & T can build a road and put the tower out farther. Ms. Markowski did not believe there is no radiation, as there was a tower placed in Poultney and one of the residents now has cancer that is close to the tower.
Jeff Biasuzzi stated the Lyman Johnson’s tower south of the Gagnon property is similar to the tower being proposed and they ran power to the site, and it is a comparable installation, and much smaller than Grandpa’s Knob. Mr. Biasuzzi asked what the maximum antennae would be, and Ms. Smith advised it is designed for a total of 4. There is consideration of the tree line that is approximately 65 feet and there could be 4 carriers. David Soulia asked with the proposed tower whether it will help the dead areas in Town from a first responder standpoint. Ms. Smith stated it would address those areas and noted the terrain is the biggest challenge in Vermont. Ideally there would be small cells along rural areas, but it is an unrealistic build. There will be better coverage when the leaves are off the trees. Marty Markowski stated his property is about 1000 feet away and the trees are on his land. He doesn’t see it from his house, but from the access road he can view it. He noted concern about the radiation and no screening for the abutting property owners. Mr. Markowski also noted concern with the noise level of the standby generator. Ms. Smith stated with regard to the radio frequency concern, the FCC standards have been in place since the early 90’s and the best the industry can do is to comply with those regulations and drop down as low as possible. Mr. Markowski did not know if it is a safe place to put it and he believes radiation would have an impact on people. With regard to the generator, Ms. Smith stated that would kick on once a month as a test and would kick in if the power went out. The generator is 105-gallon diesel generator and noise studies have been done, but additional ones can be completed. The generator is in the equipment compound that would be in the 50’ x 50’ area that would include the tower and a walk-in closet. Henry Mahoney stated since the Town has 4G, why would there be a need for the tower when Chittenden is the area that needs to be connected and the Lyman tower exists. Jeff Biasuzzi noted Chittenden is 65% national forest. Mr. Mahoney stated the tower needs to go behind and not in front of us. Shane Racette stated in Section 1207 of the Town’s Zoning it states that any tower should only be 20 feet above the top of a tree line. If the pine trees are 80 feet, it would only allow for a 100-foot tower. Mr. Biasuzzi stated the reality that comes into play is the PUC under 30VSA, Section 248a overrides municipal regulations. This predates Act 248 and towns like Pittsford adopted the regulation, but the PUC has override authority. Because there is zoning that addresses telecommunications and it is noted in the Town Plan, it was Mr. Biasuzzi’s opinion that the Town would have substantial defference in a PUC hearing. The comments brought forward in this meeting, letters to the Planning Commission and Town Manager will provide information for the Select Board to form an opinion and recommendations to be submitted to the PUC for their consideration. Mark Winslow noted there had been only one meeting for the tower near Gagnon’s and more opportunity is being given to provide input for this project. Shane Racette noted the general study indicates another balloon test could be done once all of the leaves are off the trees. Mr. Racette suggested the Select Board, or the Planning Commission request another balloon test, as this will be something that people will be looking at for the next 30 years. Keith Eddy requested names and email addresses for everyone signed into the meeting to get the group organized for future discussion of this project. Chuck Charbonneau understood the concerns about the radiation but noted that he understands why a tower needs to be installed but hoped they could work with Verizon. Concern was expressed about personal owner misrepresentation as it was felt that some of the photos do not represent how close some of the properties are to the tower. It was stressed that another balloon test should be done when there are no leaves on the trees. Ms. Smith stated the process of the balloon test starts with the balloon being placed one mile in height and photos are then taken a mile in every direction. Ms. Smith stated another balloon test can be done when the leaves are off the trees and anyone who would like photos taken from their property could call her cell #: 774-409-5807.
Michael Sullivan asked if the tower is being established with 4G cover and Ms. Smith stated there will be 4G and 5G cover depending on space and will be based on the full spectrum. Diane Racette asked why pictures were not taken of the people that are right near the tower location, as they will be the people that are going to be looking directly at it. Ms. Smith is not sure why the close properties are not photographed. It was questioned what has been the percentage of property values that have gone down from towers being installed. Ms. Smith was only familiar with those that have increased due to the tax increases. Rolf Hirschmann asked if the Town has to issue a permit for the tower and Mr. Biasuzzi advised that the PUC will issue a permit that supersedes any municipal permit, as the PUC has the authority to override the Town’s regulations. Mr. Biasuzzi noted the more vigorous and complete the justification for denial of a permit, the more the PUC will give it credibility. Mr. Biasuzzi did not think that noise would be an issue, siting an example of a tower in the center of Wallingford and there were studies made that are available from a government agency that indicates there is little impact to radiation. Mr. Sullivan questioned what will happen if the property owner decides to harvest the trees that are around the tower. Mr. Hirschmann also asked whether the trees will be cleared for the fenced area. Ms. Smith stated the access route will need to be cleared, but they do not clear a large area for the project, just for the compound. The access road will be further up the road for a more direct route to the proposed location.
Shane Racette did not think the technology is opposed but asked if AT & T would look into doing more towers and hiding them. He knows this is probably the least expensive option for AT & T. If this is for first responders, lets make it so that it fits within the Town. It was suggested AT & T take a closer look and perhaps use the existing tower near Proctor. Jeff Biasuzzi suggested Dave Mills has an emergency cell tower on his silo. He also noted the road access is not exempt by Act 248 and the Town is very careful about the access on its roads. Mr. Racette stated there is also another tower on the top of Beebe Hill that would get the project into Chittenden.
Keith Eddy asked what steps people can take regarding this issue. Mark Winslow suggested people submit their concerns and comments to the PUC. Discussion of this proposal will also take place at the Select Board meeting on November 6th at 6:30PM where additional comments can be submitted. Comments should be submitted to the PUC ahead of time and discussion with the Select Board is critical as they have standing with the PUC. Jeff Biasuzzi advised there is contact information in the packet. The condensed packet is available from the town clerk and the full packet is available to view at the town office. Also, in the packet is a summary of 30VSA 248a that is the State statute relating to this subject. Ernie Racette asked what the intent of AT & T was coming to the Planning Commission. Jeff Biasuzzi advised that by statute, the proposal has to be provided to abutting landowners, the regional planning commission and the local planning commission. Mr. Biasuzzi did not believe that the zoning board will be included. Tom Valach asked if the property is zoned commercial or residential or will this open up the area for commercial zoned businesses. He believes it is for cell coverage only and he does not believe it is for emergency services. Mr. Biasuzzi stated Act 248 is a unique regulation that overrides municipal regulations, but other non-exempt regulations would be enforced. Act 250 also has no jurisdiction over the PUC. Mr. Biasuzzi stated with regard to emergency services, since 911 occurred, the system has been overwhelmed and was a learning experience that our emergency communication network is outdated. The new system is designed to allow higher capability, interact communication with less outside interference and the emergency network nationwide is better. It was questioned whether the tower will include radio frequency and Jennille Smith stated it will be for the full spectrum. Ms. Smith advised that other agencies are also brought in to assure that due diligence is done.
Ted Gillen read the following from the packet received:
“Among the criteria considered by the PUC in evaluation each facility under 30 VSA 248a is whether the project is consistent with the recommendations of selectboards, municipal planning commission and regional planning commissions. In turn, those recommendations can be based on town/regional plans, as well as telecommunications provisions in local zoning bylaws or a standalone ordinance. 30VSA 248a(c)(2). Based on a review of the relevant municipal and regional planning documents, AT & T believes that the Facility is consistent with the applicable substantive criteria.”
Mr. Gillen stated the Select Board, regional Planning Commission and local Planning Commission should put together their recommendations to determine if it is in compliance with the Town Plan. David Soulia stated the RRPC will have a standalone review and at that point in time, it is also open to the public to give testimony similar to this meeting. Mark Winslow stated the most critical element is to approach the Select Board, as the Planning Commission relies on the Select Board for direction. A vote of the landowners present was held and no one present was in favor of the project. Diane Racette questioned when the process started and Jennille Smith advised the initial project started 9 months ago. Rolf Hirschmann stated there seems to be leeway in the permitting process and asked if it will stay a 140–foot tower or would it increase. Ms. Smith stated most towers are built to be extendable 10 or 20 feet to accommodate additional carriers, but it would have to go through the same process for a change. Shane Racette asked if the tower ran out of additional space, could there possibly be another tower placed next to it. Ms. Smith advised the PUC will not authorize cell farms and it is very unlikely. Mr. Biasuzzi questioned the subject of camouflaging the pole and Ms. Smith advised painting the pole brown rather than a fake tree is usually better.
Lynn Markowski noted she was not clear on the five-mile radius for better coverage and asked if this could be received from the towers that are already up. Jennille Smith stated a radio frequency engineer determined there was only one other tower within the search range for a backup that could potentially provide some coverage, but this was chosen by the network as the idea place. Mr. Winslow noted the group is very interested in exploring the other towers and Ms. Smith will request an alternates analysis. Ms. Markowski did not think there had been a lot of clear answers and asked where the company is located. Ms. Smith reported the AT & T client, Centerline is located in West Bridgewater, MA, who hire people in other states to help build out their networks. Ms. Smith works for Centerline and was hired to help AT & T in Vermont. Ms. Smith stated AT & T and FirstNet decided where the priorities need to be, and Pittsford was one of the areas determined. Each location was researched to determine the best place for radio frequency based on the coordinates, ground elevation and terrain. Ms. Smith stated the Governor adopted the FirstNet program. David Soulia would like to know who the group was that determined Pittsford is a priority. Mr. Hirschmann questioned the installation of a utility line and Ms. Smith advised it is proposed to be underground. Mr. Sullivan asked if the company’s’ decision for locations is based on the best place or the easiest place for installation. Ms. Smith stated they are reluctant to build where it is going to be difficult. Mr. Winslow noted there was a suggestion that Mr. Mills’ silo could potentially be a location. Ms. Smith stated AT & T does some small cell work in urban areas where the smaller antennas will provide gap coverage, but as part of the FirstNet project, there have not been any small cells done. Shane Racette questioned what weight a petition from the community would have on the process. Mr. Winslow stated the Select Board will listen very closely. It was reiterated the Select Board will be having a discussing of this topic at the November 6th meeting and Ms. Smith will be present to provide information to the Board. It was noted the Select Board will likely not decide that night, as the Town has 60 days from the date the notice was received to provide input. The Select Board may ask the Planning Commission to gather more information and there may be more questions for Ms. Smith. Mr. Winslow will request the Select Board change the location of their meeting to the town hall. Mr. Winslow again encouraged people to attend the Select Board meeting. Jennille Smith stated there is the initial advance notice that people had received to advise that there is an application being considered. After the 60 days, they would submit the petition to the PUC, and it would take a few months after that. Ms. Smith stated sometimes the other State agencies may have concerns, such as the Agency of Natural Resources.
A review of the discussion was completed by the Board members. Kevin Blow stated all present appeared to be blind-sided by the project. Chuck Charbonneau stated there is a 60-day window for comments and business-wise AT & T probably went to the State because Verizon will not allow them to use their towers. Tom Markowski understands everyone’s concern but sees the side of the landowner who will receive a rental fee and that is their option. David Soulia stated having experience with radio frequency, he is not concerned with that part of the project at all. The main item for him is whether it addresses the first responder dead zones the Town has. Mr. Charbonneau presumed they must have had to show the radio frequency, but the Planning Commission has to go by what is in the documents and hear the public’s comments. Mark Winslow will be unable to attend the Select Board meeting but hoped there would be Planning Commission representation at the meeting. Mr. Winslow will suggest the meeting be held in a more spacious location.
5. Public Comments
There were no additional comments.
6. Election of Officers
A motion was made by David Soulia and seconded by Ted Gillian to appoint Mark Winslow as the Chair of the Pittsford Planning Commission. The motion passed with one abstention – Mark Winslow.
A motion was made by Mark Winslow and seconded by David Soulia to appoint Kevin Blow as the Vice-Chair of the Pittsford Planning Commission. The motion passed unanimously.
7. Work on Pittsford Energy Plan
Mark Winslow suggested postponing this agenda item to the next Planning Commission meeting. David Soulia provided the Committee information concerning Efficiency Vermont. Mr. Winslow advised that at the last meeting board members were assigned a topic for research: Kevin Blow – solar sitings, Rick Conway – hydro, wind and biomass, Mark Winslow – deregulation, Ted Gillian – energy codes and David Soulia – Efficiency Vermont. It was suggested natural gas could be a topic for inclusion and Tom Markowski volunteered to research this subject. Mr. Winslow stated deregulation will be something the Planning Commission will want to discuss from his research of this topic, noting New York has 12 different distributors, with one being GMP. Chuck Charbonneau will consider other energy related topics and will discuss with the board at the next meeting.
8. Other New Business
Jeff Biasuzzi provided information concerning a meeting about the Otter Creek Watershed on Wednesday, October 30th in the Nella Grimm Fox Room of the Rutland Free Library at 10:00AM. Mr. Biasuzzi reported he will be attending a seminar in December for Zoning Administrators that will focus on enforcement options and how to use the environmental court. On October 31st, there is a Government Municipal Day that will be held in the Asa Bloomer Building. Mr. Biasuzzi sent the information to the Planning Commission members and advised that the Town would pay the registration fee for anyone interested in attending. David Soulia advised there is a public meeting scheduled for Monday regarding impervious surfaces and stormwater regulations.
9. Schedule Date/Agenda for Next Meeting
November 21, 2019 @ 7PM – Regular Planning Commission Meeting
A motion was made by David Soulia and seconded by Tom Markowski to adjourn the meeting at 8:58PM. The motion passed unanimously.
The Pittsford Planning Commission