Residents question need for proposed new cell tower in Shelton

Neighbors near two possible sites for an AT&T cell tower questioned whether there was a need for increased cell coverage in their neighborhood.

During a recent City Hall meeting, the residents said they have not experienced major problems with cell coverage near their homes.

“That area has excellent service,” said one resident.

“We’re not having the problems you’re describing,” another resident said.

Possible sites at Highland Golf Club

AT&T wants to put up a 120-foot-tall cell tower at one of two locations on Highland Golf Club property — either Site A on Perry Hill Road, near the start of Walnut Avenue, or Site B at a more secluded spot at the end of Walnut Avenue.

Kelly Wade Bettuchi of AT&T said tower capacity was going to become an issue as more people use more wireless devices, putting a strain on existing towers. The goal is “to build capacity and ensure we have reliable service,” she said.

Bettuchi said coverage areas should overlap somewhat so there is continual service, and that the process of getting a tower approved and built can take a few years.

She pointed out that cell coverage is important for public safety, with 70% of 911 calls now being made from mobile phones. “Everyone wants reliable service,” Bettuchi said.

Mike Lawton, an AT&T engineering consultant, said a new tower would “fill the gap” between existing towers.

Site A or Site B?

About 45 neighbors attended the meeting, which became somewhat of a verbal free-for-all as more people peppered the AT&T representatives with questions and concerns.

This was the second informational meeting organized by AT&T on the possible sites. The first meeting was in January, when most opposition centered on Site A, which is closer to more homes.

Bettuchi said the visibility of Site A from so many homes seemed to be an issue at the first meeting, with the inference that Site B would have less impact.

'This is our neighborhood'

Frank DeAngelo, who lives near Site A, said neighbors are united in opposing either site. “This is our neighborhood — the Perry Hill neighborhood ... I don’t want it in your back yard or in my back yard,” he said.

Audience members seemed particularly upset that AT&T didn’t have its presentation — especially the maps — available in a print hand-out, saying it was hard to follow as a PowerPoint presentation.

Ken Huzi said the company didn’t send follow-up information after the last meeting, as promised. Huzi told the representatives that “hurts your credibility.”

Base compound would have generator

Either site would have 50-foot by 50-foot fenced-in compounds for the tower base, with a back-up generator and other equipment.

AT&T conducted a balloon test at both sites in February, in which large tethered balloons were placed at the approximate height and location of the top of a tower.

Local land-use boards have no control over cell tower locations, which are decided by the Connecticut Siting Council (CSC). Local zoning authorities, however, do control the roof-mounted cell antennas found on top of tall buildings and church steeples.

Application could be filed soon

Attorney Lucia Chiocchio, representing AT&T, said the company could file an application in a month or so, and that it may apply for both sites and let the CSC decide the best location.

Chiocchio said the CSC would hold a hearing in Shelton to seek local input from residents and city officials. “You can get involved in the siting council process,” she said.

When asked, AT&T representatives declined to say how much Highland Golf Club might be paid for leasing the land for a tower, calling it a private contract.

Many sites were considered

David Ford, a site acquisition specialist working for AT&T, said 10 sites were considered, including three locations suggested by residents at the previous meeting.

Ford said none were as desirable as the golf course locations because they were too low in height or too close to other towers.

He said the selection process is methodical and involves finding a central site for the desired coverage area. Towers owned by other companies are considered, partly because this is less expensive, quicker and required by law. Large cell towers often have multiple carrier antennas on them.

“We don’t just come to Shelton and say, ‘Let’s throw a tower up,’” Ford said.

Audience members questioned how much cell carriers really share towers. In response, the representatives said AT&T owns three existing towers in Shelton and has nine antennas in the city, with some on towers owned by others.

Many concerns were raised

Audience members said the towers shouldn’t be in a residential neighborhood, especially in an area not too far from commercial locations.

Some neighbors asked about potential health issues, with concerns about the impact of radio frequency (RF) on people near the towers — including children at Perry Hill School, which is close to Site B.

“You don’t need to have it near a school where children are running around,” a resident said.

When it comes to RF emissions, the A&T analysis is that the new tower would generate about 16% of the allowable amount. Residents countered the RF percentage would go up if other carriers’ antennas are placed on the tower.

Federal law sets a limit on the RF emissions, and generally does not allow a tower to be rejected based on RF concerns if it’s below that level.

Neighbors also asked what would happen if a tower fell down in a wind storm.

Some people suggested the tower could be designed to look like pine trees, as is sometimes done. The representatives said this would be considered but only works well when the tower height is close to that of the nearby treeline.