The Mashpee Planning Board rejected an application for a 150-foot cell tower proposed at the Fire Station 2 on Red Brook Road in a 3-2 vote at a Wednesday meeting at the public library.
The tower, which would have brought cellular service to parts of southern Mashpee where service can be scant or nonexistent, has sparked controversy among residents for the better part of two years since the developers, Blue Sky Towers II, were granted the project in 2017.
Planning board chair Mary Waygan presented nine “findings” to support the board’s rejection of the tower. Board member John Phelan objected to the term “findings,” choosing instead to use the term “opinion.”
Ms. Waygan cited testimony and letters from residents concerned over the tower’s adverse impact upon the aesthetics and the possible detriment to property values of neighboring homes among her arguments for rejecting the project.
She also cited Mashpee zoning bylaws, a failure by the developer to establish that less intrusive alternatives are not available, and argued that earlier decisions by the Zoning Board of Appeals were unfounded. The zoning board decision has been appealed to Barnstable Superior Court.
The planning board’s decision may also be appealed in court. “We’ll probably be before a judge to explain it,” Ms. Waygan said, even before the board’s final decision was rendered.
Mr. Phelan, who is also Mashpee’s Deputy Fire Chief, called the tower a matter of public safety. In addition to bringing service to parts of south Mashpee, the tower would base a radio repeater for use by emergency services.
Mr. Phelan was joined by board member Joseph Callahan in voting to approve the project.
Ms. Waygan and board members Dennis H. Balzarini and Joseph Cummings voted against a motion to grant the special permit sought by the developers.
In public hearings, the town’s fire chief and police captain have called bringing better cell service and radio communication to southern Mashpee a matter of public safety.
Both public safety officials, as well as residents who spoke in favor of the tower during public hearings, pointed to a microburst which struck parts of southern Mashpee this summer, leaving about 2,000 homes without power, as evidence of the area’s need for better cell coverage.
A radio frequency engineer from Verizon estimated that the tower would bring cell coverage to some 1,400 residents.
Mr. Balzarini continued to suggest on Wednesday that the cell tower should be built in New Seabury, a site that would be more central to the gap in coverage. Residents opposed to the proposed location also have questioned why the tower cannot be built in New Seabury.
Elizabeth Thompson, a lawyer representing Blue Sky Towers, stated in public hearings that there is not a willing landlord in New Seabury.
She has also said that the Fire Station 2 location is the only viable location, that no one tower will fill all of south Mashpee’s gaps in coverage, and that alternative technologies are not viable.
Of Ms. Waygan’s argument that the tower would inflict adverse aesthetic impacts which zoning bylaws were meant to prevent, Mr. Phelan said, “I’m disappointed that you’re talking about aesthetics when I’m talking about public safety.”
Mr. Phelan noted also noted, in response to Ms. Waygan’s argument that property values near the tower could decline, that a certified appraiser from Fair Market Advisors, found that the tower would have no such effect.
“Based on the data that I am seeing in Mashpee of neighborhoods that have cell towers in them, there is no maleffect,” the appraiser stated during a public hearing on the cell tower. His analysis compared the value of properties in Mashpee with clear views of already existing cell towers to properties of similar age, style, and size without a view of a cell tower.
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Ms. Waygan stated that the Mashpee’s zoning districts do not allow for construction of a cell tower at the Red Brook Road location, which falls outside of the town’s wireless overlay district.
In 2018, Town Meeting voted against extending the wireless overlay district to include the fire station on Red Brook Road.
“Town meeting is our ultimate legislative body,” Ms. Waygan said. “You don’t ignore town meeting vote.”
Mr. Phelan argued that at that Town Meeting meeting vote was meaningless. “The town attorney said that it was irrelevant” before the article was voted on in October 2018, he said.
The selectmen attempted to postpone a vote on the article in 2018 saying the article was meaningless but Town Meeting overrode their motion to postpone the vote on the article.
Ms. Waygan also argued that the Zoning Board of Appeals did not have the authority to grant Blue Sky Towers a variance on the height of the tower and that that matter should have been before the planning board instead.
She also questioned whether the zoning board overstepped their bounds when granting the tower variances that had to do with use. “No variance may authorize a use or activity not otherwise permitted in the district in which the land or structure is located,” she said, quoting Massachusetts General Law.
“You can’t take things that are allowed inside those special districts and put them outside the district with a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals,” she said.
The zoning board’s decision has been appealed to Barnstable Superior Court and, before the public hearing was closed earlier this month, Ms. Waygan asked if Blue Sky Towers would allow for a continuance of the public hearing until the court rendered a decision.
Ms. Thompson said the developers would not.
The cell tower proposal previously received approval from the Cape Cod Commission.
Of the planning board’s decision to deny the special permit, Fire Chief Thomas C. Rullo, who had previously brought up issues of public safety during the public hearing, said, “my only skin in the game is public safety.”
Chief Rullo said he could not say for certain where a tower should be built but that the Fire Station 2 location provided a “distinct opportunity” to reduce costs since the location was on town property and the radio repeater could be mounted on the tower at no additional cost.
The fire chief stated he was “disappointed that the public safety side was not considered more.”
“I need people here to be able to call 911,” he said.