Bedford sued after denying cell tower
BEDFORD — A company seeking to construct a communications tower on town-owned property has sued Bedford and its local zoning board after the board denied the cell tower project.
Crown Castle Towers recently filed a civil lawsuit at the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire claiming that the Bedford Zoning Board of Adjustment unlawfully denied its application for a special exception and variance to construct a 190-feet tower at 77 Chubbuck Road, where the town’s transfer station sits.
The board rejected the project last fall, nearly a year after former Town Manager Steve Daly entered into a memorandum of option and ground lease agreement with Castle Towers to lease a portion of town property for the wireless communications facility.
Although the town council did not initially give Daly authority to execute the lease, town officials did, last October, ratify the lease, along with a companion authorization that was also previously executed by Daly without the council’s review.
Crown Castle had already entered into a separate agreement with Verizon Wireless to collocate on the facility.
Last month, Crown Castle’s legal counsel, Attorney Earl Duval, filed litigation asking the court to issue a permanent injunction to direct the zoning board to grant a special permit allowing the cell tower to be constructed, and declare that the board’s previous denial was “based on legally untenable and unreasonable grounds,” states court documents.
“The board’s denial is in direct violation of Section 704 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996,” states court records filed by Duval, adding the zoning board failed to grant a rehearing on the cell tower project after it was first denied.
At the time the board denied the cell tower application, last October, several board members questioned whether Crown Castle Towers offered the “least intrusive manner,” noting the tower was being proposed on residential property, and was higher than most cell towers in the area.
“That whole area is residential,” Bill Duschatko, board member, said a month later when a rehearing was being considered. “There is no evidence to me that they really looked at alternative sites that didn’t already either have towers or anything else. They just went and chose this one.”
Several neighbors have raised concerns about the proposal in recent months.
Although Kathleen Bemiss of 37 Magazine St. said there is terrible cell reception in her neighborhood, she previously told town officials that the proposed tower would alter the residential area, threaten the safety of nearby wetlands and potentially cause harm to residents.
However, Steve Brady of the Bedford Fire Department told the zoning board recently that the proposed communications tower is critical for the town’s public safety, maintaining there are areas in Bedford where radio communication does not work, and there are dead zones in the Chubbuck Road area.
According to court documents, Duval maintains that the proposed location is the “only feasible site to effectively close the significant (wireless) coverage gap,” adding the multi-user wireless telecommunications facility will address “inadequate coverage necessary for critical life-saving services in the public safety communication network of the town’s various emergency personnel.”
The town’s attorney, Barton Mayer, has not yet responded to the civil lawsuit. He has 60 days from the time the litigation was filed on Dec. 23, 2015 to respond to the court.
Mayer did not return a phone call and email seeking comment from the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Meanwhile, neighbor Denise Ricciardi, of 29 Magazine St., has started an online petition at change.org to ammend the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to keep cell towers out of residential areas and away from schools.
The proposed tower in Bedford, if constructed, would be in close proximity to Riddle Brook Elementary School, and about 455 feet from Ricciardi’s home.
“Most people don’t want this because of the way it looks, and it is a monstrosity and will reduce our property values. I have months of research showing how dangerous this is,” said Ricciardi.
While short-term side effects of having cell towers in residential areas include insomnia and other problems, more long-term health problems include cancer and tumors, claimed Ricciardi.
“I don’t want the focus to be on my backyard, but instead the bigger picture, which is these kids at the elementary school,” said Ricciardi, who is hopeful the town will support the zoning board’s decision to deny the application.
About 85 people had signed the online petition as of Monday afternoon.