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Fairmont Park Cell Tower Plan Hits Interference
by Allan Appel | Sep 19, 2013 10:18 am
A proposal to let T-Mobile build a cell tower in a public city park in exchange for $2,200 a month in leasing fees has been put on hold amid neighborhood outcry.
A half dozen people, including Fair Haven Heights Alderwoman Brenda Jones Barnes and her successor Rose Santana, turned out for the regular meeting of the City Plan Commissioner Wednesday night.
Their aim: To oppose a plan to lease a 5,000-square-foot chunk of Fairmont Park woods to T-Mobile to build a 150-foot “flagpole” style cell tower. Although the item was, technically, an aldermanic referral and not a public hearing, neighbors had a lot to say and the commissioners permitted their testimony. The tower would rise in the woods beyond the end of the entry road into the park on Clifton Avenue (pictured above).
The city has proposed renting the space to T-Mobile for $2,200 a month, with a 3 percent increase every year, according to a lease presented by HPC Wireless Services’ Raymond Vergati on behalf of T-Mobile.
Neighbors expressed dismay at poor communication from city officials and firm opposition to this use of a park.
Click here for a previous article on how neighbors first heard of the plan, and their initial mulling over potential benefits to the park from the rental income that they weighed against serious concerns about health, visual pollution of the sky line, and the effect on the park’s revitalization and property values in the Heights.
Neighbors had considered the idea, if some of the revenue would go directly to Fairmont Park, an area just coming back from decades of neglect through the recent creation of a lush community garden and the work of Friends of Fairmont Park.
The proposed lease distributed Wednesday included no guarantee that the revenue would go to the parks department, nor to Fairmont Park.
After hearing neighbors’ concerns, commissioners voted to table the item and instead to call for a workshop next month where all the “stakeholders” can air the issues and consequences of such a decision.
The City Plan Commission’s job is to advise the Board of Aldermen on one question: whether this use of park land is appropriate.
Neighbors also discussed the specifics of the design, such as: the enormous height of the tower; the sizable 2,200-square-foot concrete compound in the leased area that is right on the main walking trail in the park; how it is to be surrounded by a barrier fence; the proposed 12-foot wide gravel access road to be added for maintenance; and the tower’s placement just beyond the community garden and in the heart of an area that park volunteer gardeners have recently been trying to clear of bittersweet and other invasive species.
“This is a huge industrial installation just where people are entering the park. It seems like a terrible plan,” said one of FFP’s founders Paul Pasquaretta.
Area activist and the manager Urban Resources Initiative Chris Ozyck put it even more plainly. “This is not really a flagpole. Plus you need a light on this too [it’s so high, for planes coming in and out of Tweed]; the lease agreement is really in favor of the applicant. When you let a little elephant in the room, it grows big. This is a big giant pole in the middle of the view. This is a nail in the coffin,” of the skyline and the revitalization of the park, he concluded.
Vergati said the state’s Connecticut Siting Council—not the City Plan Commission—will determine the specifics of the design.
Vergati replied that his clients have been very patient, ever since 2009 when a plan to place a much shorter tower on top of a health facility on Clifton Street foundered due to neighbors’ complaints.
He said the city suggested as an alternative that T-Mobile explore locating a cell tower site in the park.
Ozyck, Santana, and others said they were shocked to hear that.
Christy Hass, the acting head of the parks department, who arrived towards the end of the meeting, said that to her knowledge no park land has ever been leased for a commercial purpose.
Parks Commissioner Kevin Walton said he had similar concerns as the neighbors, particularly on whether emanations from the tower might constitute a health threat. He said that when the company first came before the parks commission, their plans were for a tower even higher than the 150 feet in the current plan. He clarified that the parks commission did not necessarily endorse leasing the park to T-Mobile, but aimed to refer the matter for public discussion.
Ozyck was having none of it. He said he was deeply disappointed at a process that presented the tower as a kind of fait accomplit, especially when there are other far less invasive locations the city could consider. “It could be [atop] Bella Vista,” he said.
“It’s been our general principle to use park land for park purposes,” said City Plan Commission Chair Ed Mattison.
Then he added a cautionary note: “The state has lots of discretion to say they’ll do it [despite any action we take]. There’s a great deal of pressure to build these [towers]. It’s not favorable to us.”
“Our best moment [to put the project on hold for further examination] is now,” said Westville Alderman Adam Marchand, who sits on the City Plan Commission.
He made a motion to table the matter, which passed unanimously.
“We expect opposition. We’ve been patient. We hope to move forward,” said Vergati.
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$2,200 seems cheap for the square footage, even if its undeveloped.
I think Vergati will find fewer hurdles if he takes his cell tower elsewhere. The natives are irritated. Many of these names and faces, many of whom are in political opposition with each other to some degree, were willing to drop their swords in the middle of the most heated election season in decades, and have started working together to stop this nonsense. Nice work, neighbors!
Atticus Shrugged oh my I agree.
Reality if this was put on top of Bella Vista
1)the landlord would get the money.
2) he would get double what they offering to pay for this park space
I do not think that park land should ever be used to commercial use. Here in New Haven we are trying to reclaim green space. Not sell it off.
As long as I can remember, there have been some sort of antennae on top of East Rock. Just saying.
I read this expecting to conclude that the neighbors are just NIMBY’s who don’t realize that cell towers have to go somewhere and that the city needs revenue. But in fact it does sound like a really terrible placement, with no real guarantee to the neighborhood that the revenue would used to otherwise fix up the park. The kicker for me is that if Chris Ozyck says it wrecks the park, then it wrecks the park.
Cell towers still have to go somewhere. Can we go back to the shorter tower on top of an existing building?
The east shore rejected two proposals a year ago both in city parks. One at the parade sea wall area and the other on beacon hill. There is a difference between highly conspicuos in a natural area and view shed vs on an existing building, in a church steeple, or on rail property . Better yet the U.I. Property which already has ghastly high voltage lines running over the ridge in the heights.
Good motion, Adam. Nice work Chris and company.
I’m with Chris O. & Co. on this one. Fairmont is just now receiving some long overdue TLC and this tower would be a huge blight on the property. City Parks are not the place for this type of commercial use. Thanks to all who attended the meeting on behalf of Fair Haven Heights. LL.