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July 30. 2014 9:48PM

Merrimack zoning officials deny AT&T cell tower request

MERRIMACK — A controversial proposal to construct a cell tower in a residential neighborhood drew dozens of people to Wednesday’s zoning board meeting, where numerous opponents voiced concern.

Zoning officials ultimately denied the application with a vote of 4-1, after neighbors argued the tower would be an eyesore, does not belong in a residential area and could potentially decrease property values.

Attorney Brian Grossman of Anderson and Kreiger law firm, legal representative for AT&T, said the proposed 150 feet monopole would correct a “significant gap in coverage” in the wireless network in Merrimack.

AT&T was proposing to build the telecommunication tower at 121 Joppa Rd., hoping to lease a portion of a 24.3 acre parcel currently owned by Alan and Erin Walsh. In addition to the tower, the project included 12 antennas, remote radio units, fiber-optic trunks, a generator, utilities, fence and access route.

Grossman said about 12 other sites were fully investigated, however the Joppa Road location was the most feasible parcel to deliver high speed data service.

“The site does not adversely impact the neighborhood,” Grossman told the board.

Nicole Tomaselli, who lives on Knollwood Drive about 1,000 feet from the proposed cell tower location, disagreed with Grossman’s assessment. Tomaselli said there are other areas in town that may be more beneficial for a telecommunications tower.

“This couldn’t be a worse location,” she said, noting many homes in the area utilize wells, and the construction could impact them. Acknowledging she is an avid technology user, Tomaselli said she supports responsible and appropriate installation of towers, but not in the middle of a residential aquifer where coverage is already adequate and the soils are significantly wet.

Daniel Szymanowski of Joppa Road described the project as “overkill,” saying the large tower is not necessary in such a small area of town.

Bill Barry of 3 Cardinal Court was one of just a few residents who spoke in favor of the proposal, saying the cell phone reception in his neighborhood is incredibly poor.

“It is soon to be a public safety hazard,” said Barry, stressing as more customers let go of their landlines and rely on cellphones, there could be complications reaching emergency personnel.

Greg Roberts, another Cardinal Court resident, also voiced support for the tower, since he struggles with frequent dropped calls on his cellphone.

“We are a connected community,” said Roberts, an amateur radio operator, adding telecom is going to be more important as society progresses.

Grossman explained that the tower will be camoflauged with existing vegetation, and would use a standard monopine structure similar to a large pine tree.

“You can still tell it is a cell tower,” argued Michael Thompson, maintaining the pole stands about 80 feet above the highest tree. He urged the board, which received a petition from nearly 160 opponents, to deny the proposal.

Others who cited opposition to the cell tower were two town councilors and AT&T cellphone customer Robin Warren of Joppa Road, who said she has never lost a call or had trouble connecting from her home, which is the closest property to the proposed site.

The monopole would have accommodated the equipment of up to four wireless carriers, including AT&T.

khoughton@newstote.com


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