Tower or Small Cells: a “Witch’s Brew” of Choices in Massachusetts

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UPDATE After a four-year plus legal skirmish over the siting of a cell tower in South Peabody, just a few miles west of where the infamous Salem Witch Trials occurred, a state Land Court judge has ruled in Verizon Wireless’ favor by overturning the city council’s decision, reported the Salem News.

The judge ruled that the council’s denial violated the 1996 Telecommunications Act by effectively prohibiting personal wireless services. The judge annulled the council’s denial of a special permit and remanded the matter back to the council to grant the permit for the tower, and for the city to grant other approvals.

Verizon’s ultimate goal is to fill a gap in cell coverage in South Peabody, reported the News. The company has proposed replacing an existing wooden utility pole with a standalone 60-foot steel pole with three antennas, according to court documents.

Since the tower is planned to sit in a residential area, neighbor Jon Swanson who lives across the street from the proposed location said Verizon “wants to build a compound in the middle of a grassy back portion of the property, complete with a hut, generators, and an eight-foot stockade fence.”   

However, Verizon is also working with Peabody Municipal Light Plant (PMLP) on an agreement to attach small cells to utility poles. City Solicitor Michael Smerczynski said it’s unlikely a cell tower would go up in the middle of a residential neighborhood any time soon. The more likely outcome, according to Smerczynski, is for Verizon to attach small antenna arrays to power poles which will be the speedier option since any appeal of the Land Court’s decision could take a year.

Verizon rejected PLMP’s initial proposal for the carrier to pay a one-time fee of $750,000 for system set up and a year’s worth of fees for the pole usage and fiber optic cable, and then reoccurring monthly fees for poles and fiber optic cable. According to Charles Orphanos, the general manager of PMLP, “We are trying to make it [the agreement] reasonable, justified and documented so we can move forward.”

Smerczynski said the City Council will go into a closed-door meeting on April 18 to decide its next steps: A legal appeal or taking up the remand of the special permit denial. The city has 30 days to appeal from the March 27 decision, reported the News.

April 8, 2019

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