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Merrimack neighbors unite against plan to erect AT&T cell tower

Union Leader Correspondent

May 29. 2014 9:55PM

MERRIMACK — A heated controversy over the proposed construction of a neighborhood cell tower is gaining momentum, as about 100 people have signed a petition opposing the project.

New Cingular Wireless, or AT&T, has presented plans to the town’s Community Development Department to build a 150-foot high telecommunication tower at 121 Joppa Road.

Although the plans were originally expected to be reviewed by the Merrimack Zoning Board on Wednesday, the matter was delayed until June 25 since two abutters were not correctly notified of the meeting.

New towers are permitted by special exception in the town’s residential district if certain criteria is met, according to Tim Thompson, community development director.

“However, it does have to be camouflaged,” said Thompson, adding the proposed tower is designed to look like a tall pine tree.

AT&T is hoping to lease a portion of a 24.3 acre parcel on Joppa Road currently owned by Alan and Erin Walsh. In addition to the tower, the project includes 12 antennas, remote radio units, fiber-optic trunks, a generator, utilities, a meter bank, a 6-foot high chain link fence with barbed wire and a 12-foot wide access route, according to the plans on file at Merrimack Town Hall.

“The proposed monopole will accommodate the equipment of up to four wireless carriers, including AT&T. AT&T will rent space to other interested carriers at prevailing market rents,” according to the application written by attorney Brian Grossman of Anderson & Kreiger law firm. “The facility will enable users to access a state-of-the-art, fully digital system for voice communication, messaging and data transmission and reception.”

According to Grossman’s document, the tower will not adversely affect existing developed and natural environments around Merrimack.

About 100 petitioners opposed to the project do not agree, and are asking the zoning board to reject the special exception for the tower, along with any future requests for cell towers in residential areas.

“Cell phone towers have no place in residential neighborhoods, and their installation should be strictly restricted to commercial areas,” states the petition, which has already been delivered to Thompson. “The proposed cell phone tower will certainly have a negative effect on home prices in the surrounding area.”

According to the petition, studies such as the Bond and Hue Proximate Impact Study and the Bond and Wang Transaction-Based Market Study indicate price reductions of around 15 to 21 percent for homes within close proximity to a cell tower.

“Lastly, and most importantly, is the health risk this may pose to the homeowners and their young families in the surrounding area,” states the petition. “ … there are numerous studies that show continued exposure to (radio frequency) radiation from cell towers can cause adverse health impacts such as cancer and leukemia, among others.”

Thompson said he is sympathetic to the issues, and understands all of the concerns.

“But I understand where AT&T is coming from. They are trying to clear a coverage gap,” said Thompson. “There are some (coverage) gaps west of the turnpike.”

Grossman contends that the recommended site is an appropriate location for the tower, and will not have an adverse impact on overall community development. Furthermore, existing vegetation on the property will be utilized to help minimize any adverse visual impacts, according to the application.

Jackson Wynn of 120 Joppa Road, is strongly against the tower project, and has submitted his concerns in writing.

According to Wynn, the proposed tower would have a negative impact on property values and be an eyesore to the neighborhood. In addition, he contends that other towers already exist in the area that could be utilized, generator noise from the site could be disruptive and on-site fuel storage may be a hazard. Wynn also maintains that there is already adequate signal strength in the area.

Cindy Kibbe, another neighbor at 118 Joppa Road, has similar concerns.

“This is an enormous tower, and it will be right up from our window,” said Kibbe, who worries the market price and property value of her home will decrease once the structure is built.

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