By Claire Walla
The possibility of a cell phone tower being constructed in the middle of North Haven has thrown many residents into a tizzy.
Trustee Jeff Sander said the issue was pursued late last year to address the village’s spotty cell phone reception, which Sander explained “has been a common complaint for many years.”
Plus, he said the village would be able to profit from a tower, which would potentially reduce village taxes by about 10 percent.
“Those are the two motivating factors to see whether this makes any sense at all,” Sander explained in an interview along with his fellow trustee Jim Smythe. “It’s not for me and Jim, it’s for the citizens of North Haven.”
Though not everyone appreciates the favor.
“It just goes against everything North Haven stands for,” said resident Susan Lamontagne.
She is one of several community members spearheading an effort to oppose any hint of a cell phone tower in North Haven — a group that includes her husband, Lawrence LaRose, who is running for a position on the North Haven Village Board based largely on his opposition to the wireless structure.
“I’m not against trying to improve people’s cell phone service,” Lamontagne continued. “But what I don’t understand is why the board didn’t look at other options.”
At a village board meeting at the beginning of this year, town trustees heard from officials on behalf of a company calling itself Suffolk Wireless, LLC, which was asked by North Haven Village Mayor Laura Nolan to present a comprehensive plan for a 140-foot tall monopole to be placed on village property.
According to the presentation, the proposed structure — which could carry signals for up to seven service providers — would be painted a tan color on bottom and pale blue above the tree line to blend in with the natural surroundings as best as possible.
The proposal was discussed among village trustees, most of whom looked favorably upon the plan, though Suffolk Wireless, LLC has yet to actually submit an application to the village. Last month, however, the village passed a local law laying out the ground rules for potentially implementing wireless devices in the village. Trustee Diane Skilbred, who would have a view of the proposed tower from her home, was the only board member to oppose the law.
Though the village ran legal announcements in The Sag Harbor Express giving public notice prior to board meetings in which cell phone tower issues were to be addressed, some residents are upset that they hadn’t heard about the issue until after the board voted the legislation into law.
“I don’t think the actions taken to date are the ones that necessarily require a bull horn [to announce it to the public],” Sander continued. “We haven’t even discussed a site application. There isn’t even any plan or proposal to construct a tower.”
Sander and Smythe said that the Suffolk Wireless, LLC presentation at the beginning of the year is not a plan that has been submitted to the board for approval.
Plus, Smythe clarified that the board “wouldn’t even be able to entertain the good, the bad, or any other wireless options” without the local law being added to the village code book.
Initially worried about the potential health risks associated with the proposed structure, Lamontagne first addressed the issue by bringing it to the community. After talking to neighbors near her home on West Drive, Lamontagne found that many North Haven residents were concerned about the notion of putting a cell tower in the village — and many didn’t know about it. Most notably, residents worried about aesthetics and property values.
“The number one thing that we hear is that a 140-foot tower does not belong in North Haven,” she said, adding that this height is just 12 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty.
This is of particular concern to Brian Ehrlich, who said his home on Stock Farm Lane would look directly onto the tower proposed by Suffolk Wireless, LLC.
“In my case, I’ve got a beautiful view of the creek and the wetlands — without humanity,” Ehrlich said. He noted that he’s also currently in the process of undergoing a $1 million renovation on the back deck of his home to enhance this view.
Ehrlich said he met with mayor Nolan last week to express his concerns, and learned that the proposed tax break from the tower would save him about $80 a year on his village tax bill.
In other words, he continued, “for a savings of $80 a year, I get to see a cell tower.”
“It just doesn’t add up economically,” he continued. “I appreciate the fact that [Mayor Nolan] is trying to save money for the village, but saving 10 percent of a $1 million operating budget doesn’t make sense” for a relatively wealthy village, he said.
Though Sander confirmed that village taxes haven’t rising in the last five years, he and Smythe expressed concern that finances might not stay so level in the future, given the shaky economy.
Overall, Sander emphasized that the village is not yet poised to make any decisions regarding the implementation of a cell tower.
In fact, he added, the board has begun to look at other options in an attempt to address the issue of poor cell service.
“We’re still looking at the Distributed Antenna System [DAS],” Sander said of the system proposed in an editorial last week written by LaRose. DAS claims to distribute cell signals more evenly via nodes placed on top of existing telephone poles, which decreases the amount of radiation sent out, versus what a cell tower would emit. “That’s the one alternative [to a tower] that looks most promising.”
“There might be a superior solution for everyone … I don’t know yet,” he continued. “We’ve had a presentation from [Suffolk Wireless], but we’re looking at alternatives. There will be opportunities for the public to participate, because the public has raised concerned. And maybe we have to do much more than just a notice in the paper. But, once we have public debate, and the benefit of public input, we as a board will figure out what we decide to do.”