T-Mobile Takes Lawsuit Against Town to a Higher Power

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Massachusetts 

UPDATE   In late March, the Barnstable Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) voted unanimously to deny T-Mobile a special permit to install and operate six antennas in the South Congregational Church, reported the Cape Cod Times.

During the March ZBA meeting, Chairman Alex Rodolakis noted, “The regulation before us doesn’t provide us with the right for changes in use. We can alter the structures of the building, but we can’t change the use. Personal wireless communications are not a permitted use in the Centerville Village District.”

Now, T-Mobile has filed a federal lawsuit against the town of Barnstable and members of its Planning Board and ZBA. In the complaint, T-Mobile asks for expedited action on the case, reported the Times.

The controversial project has been in play for over a year after the church entered into an agreement with T-Mobile in April 2018 to install the equipment in the steeple to fix a coverage gap in the area. At the time, T-Mobile also obtained a building permit, which was suspended by the town in July 2018 due to the church’s location in a “district of critical planning concern” with zoning designed to safeguard the historic village’s aesthetics.

Rick Sousa, T-Mobile’s attorney, noted that the idea of turning steeples into antennas is a growing trend. He said the antennas would boost the signal in a “dead zone,” and, once installed, would not be visible but, instead, hidden inside the steeple.

“Many area churches have a cell phone antenna in their steeple, finding it an easy way to generate revenue,” Sousa said.

According to Charles McLaughlin, assistant attorney for Barnstable, about the lawsuit, “This is uphill all the way. FCC regulations are intended to allow for the installation of these systems at the cost of any local input or opposition. The law clearly favors the carriers.”

The project also received fierce opposition from a village citizen organization, Centerville Concerned Citizens, citing health concerns, reported the Times.

“T-Mobile’s complaint is poorly written and fails to even include its co-applicant, the church, as a party,” Paul Revere III, an attorney representing the citizens’ group, wrote in an email. “The complaint demonstrates that T-Mobile does not understand the regulatory framework of the (district of critical planning concern) as it cites zoning regulations that are inapplicable in it and further asserts that the ZBA must issue a ‘use variance’ when the town’s zoning regulations prohibit the ZBA from doing so.”

Regarding timing, if a judge were to agree to expedite the case, barring a settlement, it could be heard as early as this fall, according to McLaughlin.

May 2, 2019

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