Ledges cell tower hearing set for April

A public hearing has been set on April 24 for those with comments about the proposed 150-foot cell tower off Ledges Road

“The state’s siting council will accept testimony from 3 to 9, during which time residents are urged to submit verbal and written statements,” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi on Tuesday. “If you have something to say, make sure to submit it in writing.”

Mr. Marconi confirmed that the location of the hearing is the lower-level conference room in town hall, like the previous hearing in December, because of state statutes that prohibit hearings from being held in schools.

“They’re looking to hear testimony from residents, so this is really your opportunity to have your opinion heard,” he added.

Half-million investment

Siting council officials have told The Press that outright rejections of applications are unusual because applicants often spend around $25,000 to $50,000 to put together an application and wouldn’t invest in a plan that they thought was likely to flop. Approvals with modifications are more common.

If approved, the proposed 150-foot cell tower and the construction of its adjoining 4,650-square-foot facility would cost the applicants, Danbury-based Homeland Towers LLC and AT&T, $550,000, according to Homeland’s attorney, Chris Fisher.

AT&T would pay $250,000 for antennas and equipment, while Homeland would pay a total of $305,000 for the tower and foundation, site development, and utility and facility installation.

Eight-week job

Site preparation work is scheduled to begin following the siting council’s development and management approval and the issuance of a building permit by the town of Ridgefield.

“The site preparation phase is expected to be completed in 4-5 weeks,” wrote Mr. Fisher in the final application submitted to the siting council on Feb. 14. “Installation of the monopole, antennas and associated equipment is expected to take an additional three weeks.

“The duration of the total construction schedule is approximately eight weeks,” he added. “Facility integration and system testing for carrier equipment is expected to require an additional two weeks after construction is completed.”

The siting council received the application Feb. 24.

Pointless?

“Please be advised that your involvement with the council process may occur in various ways, such as written comments, party status, and participation in the public hearing,” wrote Melanie Bachman, the council’s acting executive director, in a letter to Mr. Marconi.

Mr. Marconi said last week that he expects the siting council will be reviewing the application before the public hearing in town, but will not make its final decision until later in the spring, and possibly in the summer.

The Inland Wetlands Board and the Planning and Zoning Commission received copies of the application last week, including four sets of plans that were received on March 4, according to Town Planner Betty Brosius.

She placed the item on the agenda for both boards, but the discussion was limited.

“We have quite a bit of time before the siting council closes the application,” she told the nine-member commission on March 4. “There’s no need to rush to make comments.”

Ms. Brosius made her comments with Richard Baldelli, the town’s zoning enforcement officer, and distributed them to the commission for any additional comments Tuesday night before she forwarded the final review to the siting council and the applicant.

Commissioner John Katz didn’t see the point in reviewing the application at all, calling the item “a waste of time.”

“Does the siting council listen to our input?” he asked.

“We have no power to approve or deny the plan,” Ms. Brosius said.

Environmental concerns have been raised, and were received by the board on March 3.

Conservation concerns

The conservation commission submitted its recommendations about the proposed site’s storm water runoff, the detention basin and discharge point, and a potential disturbance for invasive species.

The main concern voiced was about the trail that passes above the site of the tower.

“There should be landscaping that screens the enclosure from the pedestrian trail that will run above the installation,” said commission member Ben Oko. “This should be done along the downhill side of the trail, not along the enclosure itself.

“The specific number, size and location of the plant materials to achieve this can be determined later in concert with the conservation commission and the developer.”

The applicant has hired All-Points Technology Corp., based in Killingworth, to ensure the proposal complies with the National Historic Preservation Act and doesn’t have “any adverse effect” on historic properties.

The Ridgefield Historical Society received a memo from All-Points Technology on Feb. 18 and has 30 days to submit its comments.

The state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has also been made aware of the proposal and confirmed to one resident in a Jan. 10 letter that its wildlife division is investigating potential damage to endangered species in the area, specifically the bog turtle.

Weighing the need

Mr. Fisher said in the application that “the public need for the proposed facility outweighs any potential environmental effects from development of the tower, none of which have been identified as substantial or significant.”

He concluded that the applicant seeks a certificate of environmental compatibility, as well as a certificate of public need for a new wireless communications facility in northwest Ridgefield, from the siting council.

As part of the public hearing in town, the applicant will fly a balloon to the height of the would-be tower at the proposed site.

This demonstration has been done before and the results were presented to the public in a December meeting hosted by Homeland.

The location, height and other features of the facility are subject to review and potential change by the siting council under state statutes.

Mr. Fisher said in December that the siting council has increased tower height during its review sessions in the past, but said that his applicant had no intention of making the pole any higher than the proposed 150 feet.

“Going higher won’t get us anywhere,” he said.

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