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Jul 26, 2012 4:52 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

ARB Denies MetroPCS Cell Phone Tower Application

Jul 31, 2012 5:15 PM

The First Presbyterian Church of Southampton’s historic clock tower will remain untouched, for now, as the Southampton Village Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation on July 25 denied MetroPCS’s application to install a cellular phone tower inside the clock tower on the corner of South Main Street and Meeting House Lane.

The ARB found that the proposal to install synthetic siding to the historic church tower as required by the plan was “not appropriate to the property” and would be a “voluntary or elective alteration to the church exterior” that does not meet the standards of village code pertaining to historic structures.

Church leaders said they have not decided what their next step would be. Church Trustee Wayne Bruyn said on Friday that the church leaders will review a copy of the decision and consult with representatives from MetroPCS.

While the ruling serves as a relief for those who want the tower to remain as is—like the Corwin family, who have been charged with winding and maintaining the historic clock for more than a century—it’s also a blow to a church in need of the funds the installation would have provided.

The application, which was the second of its kind by MetroPCS since July 2011, proposed building four antennas inside the tower’s clock faces. Four sections of the existing wood siding around the faces on the exterior of the building would have been replaced by fiberglass reinforced polymer (FRP) to allow more efficient transmission of the cellular signal. The existing historic wood would have been removed, wrapped and stored in crates in the church’s basement storage area.

According to church trustees, hosting the cell tower would have brought in a dedicated source of funds to help maintain the building—a feat which has been difficult to continue, they said.

The church recently lost a $52,000-per-year contract with the Southampton School District, through which the church leased space to the district to host a pre-K program. Church members have said that the loss of the contract paired with a decreasing church membership, as well as regular maintenance of the church, is taking a toll.

The church entered into a five-year lease agreement with MetroPCS last year, which would have “provided a financial benefit to the church,” according to Mr. Bruyn. The agreement, however, depended upon gaining village approval for the cell tower project. If the application were given the green light and MetroPCS built its tower, the church could have garnered at least $2,000 per month as a cell tower host.

Although the ARB was aware of the church’s need for financial assistance, it only had the authority to make a decision based on aesthetics and historic preservation.

Seen as an “elective surgery,” in the words of Zach Studenroth, the Southampton Town historian and consultant to the ARB, the board found that the installation and removal of the original historic wood was not a necessary change.

“The request is the result of a voluntary enterprise by the First Presbyterian Church to replace the existing sheathing with the FRP material to accommodate the installation of the communication equipment,” the board said in its written statement. “This is not a circumstance where a historic material in need of maintenance, repair or replacement can no longer be obtained and a synthetic, or non-historic material represents a viable, or the only, replacement.”

Attorney Keith Brown of Brown & Altman LLC., which represents MetroPCS, stressed during the ARB meetings this summer that the FRP material “area of disturbance” would be less than 1 percent of the church exterior, and there would be “no change in appearance at all.”

Mr. Brown did not return calls seeking comment on the decision.

Ken Wedholm of Stealth Concealment Solutions, which would provide and install the FRP material, said that in his experience no aesthetic variation would be seen between the old and the new material.

However similar the material would be, members of the ARB agreed that in dealing with the historic nature of the church, such change would be unnecessary and not acceptable under Village Code Section 65-5, which maintains that significant features should be altered as little as possible and shall be compatible with the historic character of the property. The board concluded that “the use of the FRP does not meet standard of the criteria … and is not an acceptable replacement for the existing wood sheathing.”

In addition, the board expressed uncertainty about how long the original wood would be stored for and said there would be no way to enforce that the material would be well-taken care of in storage and reinstalled properly if the antenna were removed, since MetroPCS or the church did not provide such information.

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Hmmm ... how much is each shingle really worth and who, exactly, opposed this? Can't imagine it was the parishioners ... guess they will just have to ante up a few more tithes and offerings since the community "anti-s" already paid theirs to .... who? What a shame.
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Jul 26, 12 5:29 PM
Well BW, a little different than the way the EH Village Library and EH Airport decisions have been run from behind the scenes by the old power structure, eh? "What a shame" that this ARB has some intestinal fortitude! Not.
By Nero (301), Sag Harbor on Jul 26, 12 5:39 PM
"Intestinal fortitude" or "not," do they actually have the authority to outright deny the MetroPCS application?

I suspect that the appellate process will soon start with a trip to the Southampton Village ZBA.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jul 26, 12 8:50 PM
Lets also outlaw the automobile and go back to the horse and buggy...That should make the old fogies happy.
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Jul 26, 12 10:54 PM
Why dont they place it atop Village Hall? There are already antennae up there and you hardly see it.
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Jul 27, 12 6:27 AM
1 member liked this comment
Sure the town hall can get the money and know how to use it more than the church can. Right? How about money for naming rights for the municipal buildings around town? I like the name METRO PCS Town hall.
By pcone (28), hampton bays on Jul 27, 12 8:21 AM
Perhaps I missed the article on how the Village approved itself to have these things installed on their own buildings. And now they're denying everyone else? Will the Village be happy when this church has to sell? Just what we need - more retail stores. Better yet, perhaps those ladies in Sag Harbor can move into this church & bring their legs back home. Sag Harbor has already lost a couple of their churches. We need to work with our churches - not fight them. They are always there for us. ...more
By Ms. Jane Q. Public (147), Southampton on Jul 27, 12 9:08 AM
That is most unfortunate and short sighted, but consistent with SH Village mentality. The church needs the funds, the area needs better cell service=no brainer?? It is after all the 21 st Century!!!!!!
By sandydog21 (195), Southampton on Jul 27, 12 9:13 AM
34 years ago I did a job for the State of Mississippi reproducing Greco-Roman trim on an Antebellum plantation. The fiberglass replacements were exact. One would have to climb up under the eaves and tap on the piece to tell the difference. And they will last forever. I'm sure the aesthetics of this project would be equally unnoticeable. What's the big deal?
By loading... (601), quiogue on Jul 27, 12 9:47 AM
Someone tell the ARB that no one cares about this. The Church needs the money, we need the service and I doubt anyone would notice. Once again its government stopping the private sector from doing what it does best.
By The Real World (368), southampton on Jul 27, 12 3:45 PM
Every time a cell carrier applies to plunk some 150 ft. monstrosity in town (most recently E.Quogue), they are told instead to "pursue stealth installations in existing structures, flagpoles, church steeples, etc..."
This exact language comes from the Town's wireless master plan adopted in 2006. Their attorneys are going to love the ARB denial next time they are told to pursue "stealth installations" instead of their ugly tower.
By aging hipster (201), Southampton on Jul 28, 12 7:28 AM
When all else fails go to the Reservation and geter' done!
By The Squirl (36), Red creek on Jul 28, 12 10:51 AM
Y'know it the oddest thing.

Up until just prior to the 4th of July weekend, I had no issues with my Net10 phone in the Village. 3G was fine, and my work Nextel worked fine. Since the holiday, 3G is horrible in the Village and the Nextel doesn't work as well as it used to.

Things that make you go, "hmmmmmmmm...".
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 30, 12 4:33 PM
In all of the articles on this issue, I have yet to see any of the journalists discuss the very real issue that MetroPCS has no coverage in the Village. It has all seemed to be a referendum on the importance of the Corwin family tradition. Scratch the surface and you will find, just as we've seen over the past year, that the Corwin's only do things on their terms. There were years where they opted not to wind the clock. Why are they made out to be more important than the Church and its congregation? ...more
By faustus (1), Huntington on Jul 31, 12 4:05 PM