Wanted: more towers on town land

The cell tower that stands behind the Grumman F-14 Memorial in Calverton is on land owned by Riverhead Town, which recently received a $100,000 check from the company leasing the space.

Riverhead has leased space on water towers to cell phone companies for many years, but the town is now making deals to build new cell towers on town-owned land.

On the heels of receiving a one-time payment of $100,000 from East End Wireless, which last year built a 131-foot cell tower on land leased from the town near the Grumman F-14 Memorial in Calverton, the Town Board has authorized lease agreements with two other companies to erect cell towers on town property.

“We’ve been getting $4,500 a month” rent from East End Wireless “since February,” said Councilman John Dunleavy, who spearheaded the move to build a cell tower at that location. “Now that we’ve got the certificate of occupancy, we’re getting $100,000 from the company that installed the tower and is renting our property.”

In June, the Town Board issued a request for proposals from companies interested in building cell towers on four other town-owned sites: the sewer district property on Riverside Drive in Riverhead, the yard waste facility on Youngs Avenue in Calverton, the highway department yard on Osborn Avenue and the Wading River highway department yard adjacent to East Wind Caterers on Route 25A.

“They’re all in industrial areas,” Supervisor Sean Walter said. “Our goal is to try and put these cell towers in industrial areas that do not impact the residents.”

The town has received complaints in recent years about cell tower proposals near homes.

Three companies responded to the RFP, but officials said one response arrived late. On Wednesday, the Town Board authorized agreements with the two other companies for cell tower leases on three sites.

The board authorized a lease with Beacon Wireless for a cell tower at the yard waste facility. The town will receive 60 percent of the rental revenue Beacon earns from wireless providers that use the tower. In addition, the agreement allows the town to install antennas for public safety purposes at no charge.

The board also authorized a lease with Suffolk Wireless for towers at the sewer district property and the Osborn Avenue highway yard. These agreements are contingent upon the town’s receiving a one-time payment of $100,000 for each site, plus 50 percent of the gross revenue, with a minimum monthly rental of $4,500 per site, and installation of emergency service antennas on both towers.

In both cases, the private company would be responsible for building and maintaining the tower.

The board did not chose to lease the Wading River location at this time.

There are currently three private applications for cell towers in Wading River, and the Town Board is considering hiring an independent consultant to advise it on those applications and review the town’s code on cell towers.

The Wading River applications involve sites at Little Flower and St. John’s Church and near the Riverhead Town border, plus potentially one more on the town-owned site. The town code also states that cell companies should co-locate on existing towers or structures before they build new towers.

“Certainly, we don’t need three cell towers within a mile of one another,” Supervisor Sean Walter said at a recent work session.

The town’s jump into the cell tower leasing business presents some potential conflicts, as the board also must rule on applications for towers on private land from companies with which it is doing business itself.

Beacon Wireless, for example, is the applicant on the Little Flower cell tower application, which has been in the application stage for about two years.

“It sounds like it could be conflict of interest because if the town is making a lot of money off these companies, the companies may expect the town look favorably on their applications,” said Dominique Mendez, co-founder of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition.

“On one hand, as a taxpayer, it’s great that we’re getting all this money, but on the other hand, I’m very concerned that it could influence town decisions on other applications,” she said, adding that she would prefer cellular antennas to be built on existing structures rather than new towers.

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