Riverhead building cell towers on town property

A cell tower looms behind the Grumman memorial in Calverton.

While Riverhead Town has for many years leased space on water towers to cell phone companies, the town is now having new cell towers built on town-owned land.
On the heels of receiving a $100,000 payment from a company that last year built a 131-foot high cell tower on land leased from the town by the Grumman F-14 Memorial in Calverton, the Town Board has authorized lease agreements with two other companies to build cell towers on town land.
The tower by the Grumman memorial was built by and leased to East End Wireless, which last week paid the town $100,000, as called for in its agreement.
“We’ve been getting $4,500 a month (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. Those sites are 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 of the responses arrived late. On Wednesday, the Town Board authorized lease agreements with the two remaining companies, for cell tower lease arrangements on three of the four sites.
The board authorized a lease with Beacon Wireless for a cell tower at the yard waste facility, in which the town would receive 60 percent of the rental revenue from wireless providers with an annual three percent increase per wireless provider. The agreement also allows the town to install antennas for public safety purposes at no extra 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 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, a three-percent annual increase per wireless provider, and installation of emergency services antennas on all or all of the 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 them on those applications, and to review the town’s code on cell towers.
The three Wading River applications are at Little Flower, St. John’s church, and another one near the town border, plus potentially one more on the town site. The town code also states that cell companies should co-locate on existing towers or structures before they built 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 entering the cell tower leasing business also presents some potential conflicts, as the board also must rule on private applications from companies it may be doing business with 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 town is making a lot of money off these companies, the companies may expect the town look favorably on their applications,” said Dominique Mendez, the 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 be built on existing structures rather than new towers.
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