Following a judge’s decision that found Cape Elizabeth had erred in not allowing Verizon Wireless to install a cell tower atop an historic water tower, the company is once again seeking town approval for the project.
The Planning Board is scheduled to meet Monday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m., to review a second site plan application from Verizon that would allow the company to install cellular antennas on top of a 70-year-old, decommissioned water tower at 11 Avon Road.
Verizon sued the town last spring after Code Enforcement Officer Ben McDougal denied the company a permit to install its antennas on the water tower, saying the project failed to meet various requirements in the town’s zoning ordinance.
Then this past fall, a federal judge in Portland determined that McDougal had erred and that in fact the installation of a cell tower at the Avon Road location is allowed under Cape Elizabeth’s local rules.
The Portland Water District has not stored water in the tower since 2007 and in 2013 Verizon signed a five-year lease with the water district in order to allow it to improve cellular phone coverage in Cape.
Verizon’s goal is to install three sets of wireless communication antennas around the top of the water tower, which would be shielded by fiberglass shrouds.
The project would also include construction of a 10-by-16-foot pad near the base of the tower to store equipment and a generator.
As one of its 2016 goals, the Cape Elizabeth Town Council has said it would like to see improved cell phone coverage throughout town, which has been a concern of residents for the past year or more.
In fact, many residents have signed an online petition calling the insufficient cell service on the southeastern end of town a nuisance, as well as being unsafe.
However, many of those living near the water tower have argued that allowing cell antennas on top would be unsightly, create noise, increase traffic and lower their property values.
After winning the lawsuit this past fall, Verizon’s attorney, Scott Anderson, told the Current the company was pleased “this project can now move forward,” and added, “we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to get a permit from the Planning Board and commence construction right away.”
In its new site plan application, Verizon said it plans to repaint the water tower, as well as install new antennas and shrouds to block their visibility. In addition, the company said there would be limited post-construction traffic and no pedestrian access to the site would be allowed.
In a memo to the Planning Board, Town Planner Maureen O’Meara said public comment on the project would be allowed at next week’s meeting and that the board could decide to hold a site walk and/or schedule a public hearing before granting any approvals.
She also said that based on staff review of Verizon’s application, there may be two issues the board should get more information on, including the wattage of any lighting planned for the antennas and the fuel source and noise output for the generator.