Verizon’s proposal to build a cell phone tower to improve service in West Tisbury came before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission last week, sparking a long discussion and volumes of correspondence protesting the location of the tower near Tisbury Great Pond.
The company has proposed installing an 80-foot tower on a 50-square-foot piece of land on New Lane in West Tisbury, and has identified three potential locations for the tower. Two of the sites are in the inland zone of the coastal district of critical planning concern.
The pole would rise above the tree line in the area, which is designated a rural district. Verizon is applying for a special permit under West Tisbury bylaws, and the West Tisbury zoning board of appeals referred the matter to the commission for review.
Verizon representative Carl Gehring said that the additional cell tower is needed to expand coverage in the area; he noted that when President Barack Obama vacationed on the Vineyard and stayed in Chilmark, portable cell towers on wheels (or COWs) were placed in the proposed location to improve service.
Mr. Gehring cited cell phone service lapses, especially around the West Tisbury town hall and at the intersection of Edgartown and County Roads.
Verizon has said it would prefer using a monopine, a tower that would have fiberglass branches, antennae painted green and a pole painted brown, to resemble a pine tree. The other option would be a stealth monopole, a single pole painted flat brown or dull gray, with antennas hidden inside.
The monopine would allow co-locators, or other carriers, to use the tower.
“Our goal is to get on air and make everyone happy and hopefully be our customers,” he said.
“Never,” a woman in the audience responded, one of about a dozen people who attended the meeting.
“This is the record amount of materials we’ve ever received, from applicant and citizens,” DRI coordinator Paul Foley said after Mr. Gehring gave a project overview, which included large binders of information. About 60 people wrote letters in opposition to the project, with about 24 signing a spiral-bound 78-page document against the project. About 20 people signed a form letter of support for the application.
“Knowing that cell phone service in this area is at best barely functional and understanding the location for this site is greatly obscured by the surrounding high woods, I encourage the board to approve the project when it comes up before the board for review,” the form letter said.
But opposition to the cell tower focused in some cases on the monopine idea, and others said the location would spoil the Tisbury Great Pond area.
“Just wait awhile, the world will not end if we don’t get a cell phone tower in 2013,” David Sample of Leesburg, Va., wrote.
“We . . . live in West Tisbury because of its rural setting, which you can appreciate driving into town from Edgartown or on Old County Road. The visual impact of an 80-foot ugly tower (looking like a phony Christmas tree) is only detrimental to the West Tisbury setting,” neighbor Marilyn Hollinshead wrote. “I have tried, hard, to imagine how the cell tower would change this experience. What I know is that the beauty of the tree line — amazingly unbroken on either side of the pond up to the present day — will be forever scarred,” West
Tisbury resident Patricia Moore wrote.
“Please take this little step to preserve this small wild place in our Island world,” she concluded.
Thomas Hodgson wrote in favor of the monopine proposal. “Scenic preservation is important. The idea of having a ‘standard’ cell tower is really awful. This is a much better alternative. It won’t be there forever . . . all things pass, even cell phone towers.” He also said the monopine was a fun alternative.
Just a few audience members spoke at the meeting, though some became emotional when addressing the commission.
“What we’re really talking about is corporate access to customers on the Island,” said West Tisbury home owner Marsha Feinberg, noting she has to stand in “certain corners” of her house to get cell reception. “I have to make some compromises. The reason why we’re on this Island is because we’ve made compromises . . . because we want someplace that is special and preserved and different from other places.”
The commission decided to refer the issue back to the land use planning committee so the various options could be addressed, before bringing the issue back to the commission.
In other business, the commission approved a fiscal year 2014 budget of $1,325,350, an increase of about 10 per cent from last year. The amount Vineyard towns are assessed from the commission has increased by $104,084, or 12.8 per cent over last year.
Treasurer Brian Smith said most of the increase can be attributed to higher legal expenses and retirement costs. The commission spent $196,613 on legal expenses in 2012, as opposed to the budgeted $60,000.
A typical house assessed at $500,000 will pay about $23.60 for the commission budget, an increase of about $2 from last year.