In the wake for a third storm that left much of northern Ridgefield acutely aware of it’s lack of reliable cell phone service, the selectmen are trying to push a potential for a cell tower site back into a revived purchase of 28 acres off Ledges Road as open space.
Bitter neighborhood opposition killed a proposed purchase of the same land for combined cell tower and open space purposes back in 2011.
At a special meeting Monday morning, Nov. 19, the selectmen scheduled the Conservation Commission’s proposed purchase of the 28 acres off Ledges Road for a public hearing and town meeting.
But they told Ben Oko to return to tonight’s Conservation Commission meeting and ask members to agree that the purchase proposal would be advanced to town meeting with an understanding the selectmen might come back and ask to buy an acre or less at the top of the steeply rising property for a cell tower site.
The renegotiated purchase put forward by the Conservation Commission last week was intended as open space, and has a $825,000 price which the Conservation Commission can cover from it’s Open Space Conservation Fund.
The price was $1 million in 2011 when neighborhood opposition to a cell tower sank a proposed joint purchase of the same 28-acre tract by the Conservation Commission and the selectmen.
The 2011 deal was meant to serve the dual purpose of adding open to the town’s open space while providing a site for a cell tower site that cell phone company engineers say would greatly improve cell phone communication in northern Ridgefield, where many areas have little or no cell service.
The Conservation Commission’s new deal was not put together with a cell tower site in mind. But Dr. Oko told the selectmen, there is no provision dictating open space use in the contracts signed by the private sellers.
However, the money the Conservation Commission planned to use to buy the property come from private fund raising done for the expressed purpose of buy open space land — not land for cell towers.
The Conservation Commission would be leery of having it’s new proposal tied up with a cell plan, Dr. Oko told the selectmen Monday morning.
“We supported it at the time,” he said of the dual-purpose deal in 2011. “We got a lot of heat for it.”
Mr. Marconi said things had changed.
“Since then, we’ve had another catastrophic storm,” he said.
The public hearing on the proposed purchase was scheduled the week after Thanksgiving, on Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 7:30 in the town hall’s lower level conference room.
The town meeting was scheduled two weeks after that, on Wednesday, Dec. 12, also at 7:30 in town hall.
Mr. Marconi said the hearing and/or meeting might be moved to a bigger venue if it appears large numbers of people plan to attend.
The vote was 2-to-1, with Mr. Marconi and Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark in favor, and Selectman Andy Bodner opposed.
Mr. Bodner did not want to call a public hearing until after the selectmen had assurances the cell tower site would be possible on the property.
“This is our one bite at the apple,” he said.
Mr. Marconi felt it made sense to goa head with the hearing.
“It may be a good forum to have this debate,” he said.
Either way, a purchase will go through only if it is approved by voters, and its conditions will be dictated by what they approve.