Story by Lourice Angie
The Town of Chester Planning Board held a public hearing on Wed., Apr. 4 to discuss and review a proposed Verizon Wireless site plan. Residents and neighbors of Kings Estates in Warwick NY, who oppose the project, voiced their concerns over public health, safety, environment, and property values. Proposed plans would include the installation of 12 panel antennas above an existing 95 foot tall water tank owned by the Warwick Water Corp. in the residential neighborhood of Kings Estates, which is located off of Kings Hwy. in Warwick.
Proposed Plans for Service Facility on Existing Water Tank
Don Serotta, the chairman of the Planning Board, opened the public hearing by assuring that everyone attending would receive a fair chance to speak. He then introduced Allyson Phillips, of Young/Sommer LLC, the attorney representing Verizon Wireless. Phillips was accompanied by civil engineers Mike Crosby and Dave Herbowy, of Tectonic Engineering and Surveying Consultants P.C.
Phillips gave a presentation that provided general information, analysis and photos on the proposed project. Facility plans include the installation of 12 panel antennas at the 100 foot AGL centerline above the existing 95 foot tall water tank, an unmanned equipment platform measuring 11.5 ft. x 16 in. size, and all related ground equipment and utility services. The facility would be visited for routine maintenance purposes approximately two to three times a year.
Mike Crosby, the engineer representing Verizon Wireless, assured that through Radio Frequency (RF) and testing it was determined that the project would not impact the existing water or sewage services or vehicular or pedestrian access. The proposed project area, including all associated site improvements, would consist of a minimal portion within the existing fenced compound area of 330 sq. ft. (16.5’ x 20’). A 30 ft. wide easement would provide access and utility services to and from the project site and the existing access drive from Evan Rd. would be utilized in its current location for access and utility purposes without any proposed improvements.
Attorney Phillips also stated that the project is a necessary and critical upgrade of the Verizon Wireless communications network in the Town of Chester and a wireless facility tower on Kings Hwy. would provide advanced emergency and nonemergency 4G communications coverage to the north and south of this area, as well as residential portions of Sugar Loaf.
Phillips also said that the facility is in compliance with the FCC and Federal Law and that the subject of electromagnetic field safety is preempted by the Federal Communications Law Act, which she explained is beyond the purview of the local Planning Board to determine that there would be any health impact from the communications facility. The Federal Government has already determined that this is a false assumption after years of study.
The project is expected to have minimal visual impact on residents because the Town’s water tank is located on a 9.9 acre parcel zoned SR-1 which includes undeveloped woodlands that provide a natural screening of ground equipment from neighboring parcels. Additional marking or lighting will not be needed and site development would not require disturbing or removing current vegetation.
Town Engineer Al Fusco announced that after submitting previous comments to the applicant, plans were updated and health and safety standards and questions were adequately addressed. Chairman Serotta announced that under certain circumstances an application has to be referred to the County Planning Department and given 30 days for a response. The County reviewed the applications site plans and stated in their response that they found no significant impact on the intermunicipal or countywide evidence. No advisory comments were made regarding this application and therefore it is a local determination.
Residents Signal Concerns
Residents and neighbors who live near the proposed cell tower facility were not sold or convinced about the overall safety of the project plans despite Verizon’s FCC compliance notices and engineer findings.
Ed Mullins, who resides on Kings Hwy. and has family who reside in Kings Estates, says that he doesn’t trust Verizon or the FCC findings that indicate that facility is within legal limits. He explained that when using his own cell phone, he uses safety regulations and the suggested precautions to limit himself to RF exposures.
“When I’m out in my yard mowing my grass with my nephew’s family out there playing or when kids in King Estates are riding their bikes, how are they going to limit their exposure? You’re putting cell towers in residential neighborhoods. You’re affecting people where they sleep, where they live, where they play. It’s a hazard and they don’t belong by houses, regardless of whatever they think acceptable RF limits are,” said Mullins.
He continued, “RF is cancer causing and has many negatives to it. My question is, 27 years from now when residents develop cancer, will they think about this time and when those towers went up? How about property values? It’s going to affect the people living by that tower. When I go to sell my home, will I get a disclosure from the federal government that will reassure buyers that those cell towers are safe? The plans include building on top of a water tank that provides drinking water. Will it affect the water? It will limit the amount of interested buyers and property values. Kings Estates is a community of condos, first time home buyers, middle class incomes, and predominantly Hispanic and African American. I think you’re doing a great disservice to them and robbing them of their equity. For nearly three years we’ve heard about institutional racism and I just found it in my backyard. It doesn’t need to be in residential areas. It will affect our property values and our health.”
Esther and Charles Oliveras, of Kings Estates, who have a clear view of the water tower from their home, stated that the photos shown by the Verizon Wireless representatives did not do justice. Charles Oliveras said the site where Verizon Wireless proposes to add the facility was not a dead zone and did not have signal problems. He also asked the applicants engineer what other sites were previously looked into for placing a tower.
Esther Oliveras read a petition written and signed by 35 residents who all share the same views and concerns on the proposed communication tower. The petition read, “We the citizens of the Town of Warwick and Kings Estates homeowners respectfully petition the Planning Board of the Town of Chester to deny the application of O.C. Poughkeepsie Limited Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless for the installation of 12 cellular antennas on the existing water tank owned by Warwick Water Corp. as well as the construction of an accessory platform. Studies have shown living in close proximity to a cell tower or antennae may pose significant health risks including cancer. Cell towers are continuously being approved without assurance to the health and safety of the families living nearby. Property values are likely to be compromised. We have to take into consideration that cell phone companies are paying considerable amounts of money to companies such as Warwick Water Corp. to install cell towers. Please consider our families, our children. There are health risks for little babies and the amount of radiation that they will be getting.”
“I work in Manhattan. I’m dealing with this all the time. I came to the country to give our kids a better life and we’re seeing a little more of the city coming to the country,” said Oliveras.
Julio Martinez from Kings Estates asked the Verizon Wireless attorney and engineer if any of them lived close to a cell tower and how it affects the people in their community. They responded “yes,” but could not answer as to how it affected their neighbors. Martinez also asked about the size of the tower and the facility and if it would present a health hazard or present safety hazards to children.
Chester resident Andrew Delo asked, “How many other places did you see if it could work with Verizon’s necessities?”
Attorney Phillips responded, “We have a site selection analysis with site engineering analyses that look at a target area and available locations that would allow service to that targeted area and the height of the location. The water tank was chosen because of the height and location of the existing structure rather than looking to
Engineer Mike Crosby answered respectfully the data that he has seen on the subject for many years actually encourages people to move into areas that have good public services.
Fatima Jones, of Kings Estates, who has a direct view of the water tank, asked if the tower would be noisy. The attorney answered that a generator that would be running at the facility would be within acceptable standards.
After the residents spoke no further action was taken by the Board and the meeting was adjourned. The board will be accepting written correspondence for the next 10 days.
“A decision is not going to happen tonight,” said Chairman Serotta.
Serotta told Verizon Wireless that they would need to come up with answers to all the questions asked and the issue will most likely be placed on next month’s agenda. Another public hearing will be held and everyone was invited to come back. Anyone interested in reviewing the documents for this proposed plan can visit the Town of Chester website at www.chester-ny.gov.