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Jul 29, 2009 9:19 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Water Mill residents oppose 77-foot-tall cell tower

Jul 29, 2009 9:19 AM

Water Mill residents showed up en masse at last week’s Southampton Town Planning Board meeting to voice opposition to a proposed 77-foot-tall cell phone tower on Montauk Highway, arguing that the structure would ruin the landscape and lower property values.

Omnipoint Communication, which owns cell phone carrier T-Mobile, wants to construct the tower on a property of approximately 1 acre on Montauk Highway that is currently zoned for residential use. The company needs to secure a special exception permit from the Planning Board to move forward with the proposed tower, according to town planner Claire Vail, who is handling the application.

Ver Der Ber Landscape Nursery, which has offices in Aquebogue, owns the property in question and is currently using it as farmland, Ms. Vail said. Under the proposed agreement, Omnipoint Communication would lease the property.

During the Planning Board meeting held last Thursday, July 23, nearly two dozen people, including neighbors of the parcel that is owned by the nursery, said the addition of a cell phone tower would create a visual obstruction affecting the entire hamlet of Water Mill.

“My view is farmlands and vineyards,” said Frank Keenan, a Water Mill resident. “I see deer feasting on leaves, and I don’t want to see a 77-foot tower.

“I hope that the Planning Board will continue to preserve farmland,” he added.

At the close of the nearly two-hour-long discussion on the tower last week, the Planning Board decided to hold open the public hearing on the application. It is now scheduled to be discussed again during the board’s August 27 meeting. Concerned residents can submit written comments to the town prior to that meeting.

Representatives of Ver Der Ber Landscape Nursery did not return calls this week.

If constructed, the cell phone tower would be visible from the intersection of County Road 39 and Montauk Highway, and from Fairbanks Court and Mill Farm Lane in Water Mill, said Donna Stipo, a consultant with DMS Consulting Services of New Jersey, which specializes in examining the visual impact of cell phone towers.

Ms. Stipo said that camouflaging the tower would be difficult because Water Mill is very flat. Also, there are few tall buildings in the area suitable for affixing antennas to, she said.

Omnipoint Communication hired Ms. Stipo to complete a study on how the tower would look. In order to make that determination, Ms. Stipo’s firm placed a 77-foot-tall crane on the property in December and took pictures of it from different nearby streets. Ms. Stipo explained that she conducted the study in December because that is when the proposed tower would be most visible because nearby trees would be bare.

Bill Marlow, a resident of Water Mill, said the tower would spoil one of Long Island’s most scenic areas.

“I think of the intersection of County Road 39 and Montauk Highway as the beginning of the East End of the South Fork,” Mr. Marlow said. “Visitors to the East End of the South Fork do not need to see this monument.”

Rachel Verno, chairwoman of the Water Mill Citizens Advisory Committee, also expressed displeasure with the proposed tower and said it does not adhere to the town code. She said the code requires that new structures have a height within 10 feet of surrounding buildings’ heights.

“This will be a visible nightmare and will have a negative impact on the neighborhood,” Ms. Verno said. “This is not consistent with the neighborhood.”

David Bradley, a real estate specialist hired by Omnipoint Communication, said the structure would not harm property values in Water Mill. He noted that there is a taller, more visually obstructive cell phone tower in Bridgehampton that did not lower property values in that hamlet.

Rhoan Gordon, an engineer working on the Water Mill project, explained that the proposed cell phone tower would help improve T-Mobile’s coverage on the East End.

“Right now, there is a significant gap, or service drop, at 75 Montauk Highway,” said Mr. Gordon, referring to the address where the company wants to construct the tower. “We determined the gap by using software and having users go through the area.”

But several people attending last week’s meeting said they use other cell phone providers and would not benefit from the structure.

“No one on the South Fork will buy a T-Mobile phone if the tower goes up,” said Mr. Marlow.

Planning Board member Jacqui Lofaro asked Mr. Gordon if he had considered reducing the size of the tower. He responded that if the tower is lower than 77 feet, a second tower would have to be installed somewhere else in Water Mill to close coverage gaps.

Others at the meeting said they were concerned about how the tower could affect their health. Linda McLane-Euell, whose home is located across the street from the proposed location of the tower and also owns 4 acres in Water Mill, stated that some education officials in Los Angeles have forbidden cell phone towers from being affixed to their schools because they could potentially harm students. “They don’t allow poles because of health hazards,” said Ms. McLane-Euell, noting that 13 generations of her family have lived on the East End. “I hope that the town does the right thing for the residents.”

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I for one am opposed to this tower! Unless it's gonna boost my AT&T signal, in which case I'm all for it! ;-)
By Agawam Yacht Club (69), Southampton on Jul 24, 09 2:38 PM
When did the word 'stealth' become a verb? Why of course - when it was needed to say something untrue! 'Stealthing' a cellphone tower is a euphemism for 'utterly failing to disguise a vast and unmissable eyesore'.
By nutbeem (27), Westhampton on Jul 24, 09 5:01 PM
NIMBY's at it again. If you don't want the cell phone tower in your backyard, are you willing to give up your cell phone? I thought not, nothing but a bunch of whining hypocrits.
By Walt (292), Southampton on Jul 25, 09 1:47 PM
Maybe these homeowners could use stealth to make there houses look like farm fields. Then we could enjoy the view we had before their homes were built.
By Bandguy (23), Sag Harbor on Jul 26, 09 8:43 PM
3 members liked this comment
I agree with Bandguy, no body complained when they built thier houses which by the way provided no public benefit to the community. Remeber this the next time you are trying to talk your husband, wife, son or daughter thru an emergency and get a dropped call. There are towers in all of our communities not just Water Mill.
By Born in EQ Local (8), East Quogue on Jul 27, 09 9:43 PM
The planning board strikes again. They ignore the citizens of Southampton Town. If you are unhappy with them, use your VOTE in November for change.
By Bob Whyte (48), Hampton Bays on Jul 28, 09 9:17 AM
1 member liked this comment
Parisienes were aghast when the Eiffel Tower was first erected. But, in time, it became the beloved symbol of their city internationally. I suggest that the people of Water Mill and Omnipotent Communications collaborate to erect a tower that will be a cynosure for the entire East End. One pictures an enormous seventy-seven foot tall sunflower with verdant green foliage and a twelve foot diameter yellow flower that follows the sun from dawn to dusk. But this is only one idea. I am sure that ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jul 30, 09 10:09 PM