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Opposition mounts to 130-foot cell tower proposed in Aquebogue

Woodside Orchards is seeking to locate a cell tower on its Main Road property in Aquebogue. Photo by Tim Gannon

A proposal to build a Verizon cell tower on the Woodside Orchards property on Main Road in Aquebogue ran into opposition both from speakers at a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing Thursday night as well as from more than 40 residents who wrote letters to the ZBA in opposition to the proposal.

Woodside Orchards, owned by the Gammon family, sells hard cider at the three-acre site and also has an apple orchard growing there.

The application needs a ZBA variance because the 130-foot tall proposed tower is required under Town Code to have a fall zone as large as the tower itself between it and all neighboring properties.

In this case, the proposal meets that requirement on its east, south, and north border, but not on the west, where it’s only 66 feet from the neighboring property, which houses a group home run by Aid to the Developmentally Disabled.

The ZBA received about 46 letters in opposition to the proposal, according to ZBA member Otto Wittmeier.

Many of the letters appear to be form letters that make a lot of the same points from letter to letter.

“There are enough radio towers in Riverhead and proposing more lower type structures is intrusive no matter what they are designed to look like,” some of the letters state.

They recommend using newer technology that allows for shorter poles located along roadways.

Bailey Larkin, an attorney for the applicant, told the ZBA Thursday night that if they were to locate the proposed tower in the middle of the orchard, it would meet all fall zone requirements. Site plan approval from the Planning Board would still be needed, however.

Instead, they propose to locate it just south of an existing barn on the property.

“The location was selected given the existing operation on the property,” Ms. Larkin said.

“It is an active orchard and we’re trying to minimize any disturbance to the existing agricultural use. There are also aesthetic considerations in locating the tower where it is.”

By locating the tower and the equipment that goes with it behind the barn, the equipment at the base of the proposed tower will not be visible from the road, she said.

Ms. Larkin and engineer Neil MacDonald said the tower is designed to fall into itself if it ever falls, so that it won’t land on anything off the property.

The application calls for relocating 20 apple trees, but more would need to be relocated if the tower was located in the middle of the orchard, Ms. Larkin said. They also would have to run electric and telephone service to the location, she said.

“It would be a significant disruption,” she said. The 130 feet height was the minimum height needed for the tower to be effective at that location, she added.

The proposed tower is what’s known as a “concealment” tower that has all the antennas inside it, according to Mr. MacDonald.

Larry Simms of South Jamesport said he’s attempted to put a wind tower on his own house and was told by the town that he couldn’t do it because the fall zone would land on neighboring properties.

“If you grant this, I’m going to be back here with an application,” he said, adding that such a ruling would likely set a precedent that would lead to other such applications.

Speaking as a representative for Save Main Road, Mr. Simms said a 130 foot high tower would be visible for miles and the landmark Old Steeple Church tower would be “overwhelmed” by it.

He asked if the co-applicants — Gammon Holdings LLC and Wireless Towers LLC — had considered locating the antennas in Old Steeple Church. ZBA member Frank Seabrook said there already are wireless antennas in Old Steeple.

John White, who owns the property behind the orchard, said the Gammon family  “are wonderful people and I have no problem with the town being on the site. My concern is only with the proosed location and safety.”

Mr. White expressed concern that the tower could fall on a bus taking people to or from the ADD group home.

He also doubted the claim that the towers wouldn’t land on adjacent property if it fell. Mr. White, who owns two racetracks upstate, said he called the company that does the light poles for his track and asked about the claim made by the applicants.

“I was told, if its 130 feet, it will fall 130 feet,” Mr. White said.

“It will forever change the scenic landscape of the community to have a 130 foot tower,” said John French of Laurel.

He said there is already good cell phone coverage in this area.

Richard Reeve of Riverhead said the applicant should put the tower in the middle of the orchard.

Ms. Larkin said she submitted cell coverage maps to the ZBA showing why the tower is needed.

As for the alternate type of towers suggested by the letters, Ms. Larkin said there are federal court rulings saying that a municipality cannot dictate the use of one type of technology over another.

The ZBA made no decision on the application and adjourned the hearing to the April 14 ZBA meeting.

If Woodside does get ZBA approval for the variance, it would still need site plan approval from the town Planning Board.

Caption: Woodside Orchards is seeking to locate a cell tower on its Main Road property in Aquebogue. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

CORRECTION: The story originally said the tower was 166 feet. It is 130 feet.