MANCHESTER — The city Zoning Board has again rejected a proposed AT&T cell phone tower off South Mammoth Road, the latest setback for the wireless giant and another victory for a group of residents who have fought the tower for two years.
The Zoning Board voted 3-1 on Wednesday against a variance that would have permitted AT&T to build a 100-foot tower in the residential zone.
The tower, which would be in the shape of a "faux tree," was proposed at 235 South Mammoth Road, in the woods behind the home Mark Sanborn and his family.
The rejection raises the possibility that attorneys for AT&T will resume legal action against the city in federal court. AT&T had appealed the Zoning Board's rejection in 2011 of a tower at the site, on the grounds it violated the federal Telecommunications Act, which limits the ability of local authorities to prevent tower construction in order to improve wireless coverage.
AT&T representatives agreed in August to present new data to city regulators before the U.S. District Court judge ruled on the case.
Following the Zoning Board's vote, Stephen Anderson, the chief legal representative for AT&T at Wednesday's hearing, said he couldn't comment on the company's next steps.
AT&T had pursued several possible locations for the tower in southeast Manchester, which it says is necessary to bridge coverage gaps in the area and, in particular, to improve "in-building" coverage.
A year ago, AT&T had proposed leasing Manchester Water Works land off Cohas Avenue. The deal would have netted the Water Works an initial payment of $75,000 and around $15,000 a year for the 25-30 year term of the lease. The aldermen rejected the deal in response to concerns from the neighbors, who have argued that the tower would be an eyesore, diminish property values and could pose health problems.
Neighborhood resident and Democratic activist Kathy Sullivan has been outspoken against the cell tower, and she reiterated her concerns Wednesday night.
"Unless and until AT&T produces the evidence, they have not met the burden of proof that there is no feasible alternative to building in the middle of a residential district," she said.
Another resident opposed to the tower, Alex Saidel, presented maps and charts in a lengthy presentation at the board meeting.
He said he couldn't understand why AT&T wouldn't use another location.
"I wonder if the deal they have cut with Mr. Sanborn is so good they don't want to do anything else," he said. "Maybe it's not about coverage for 50 customers; maybe it's about setting a precedent."
Two aldermen also attended the hearing, Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur and Tom Katsiantonis, who represents Ward 8, where the tower would be located. Both men oppose the tower in the neighborhood.
In its court filings, AT&T said it looked at 15 sites in the area, including Holy Cross sisters, the Assumption Greek Church and McLaughlin Middle School, who all turned the company down. The fire station at East Industrial Park Drive would need a 200 foot tower, and that would run into problems with the Federal Aviation Administration, company officials said.
Anderson, AT&T's legal counsel, insisted that an independent study had confirmed that there were no other viable alternative locations for the tower to meet its coverage needs.
"In-building coverage is critically important to wireless customers.
It's important to point out the demographic statistic that people under 28 years old rely almost exclusively on wireless devices," he said. "Schools increasingly rely on wireless. This is the future of education."
Meanwhile, Sanborn, the man who owns the property AT&T wants to lease, noted that the tower would be set off South Mammoth Road by 500 feet and would be nestled in the woods behind his house, with the top of the tower barely rising above the existing trees.
"Everybody wants technology but nobody wants a tower that they can't even see really," he said in an interview at his house before the hearing. "I don't get it. Myself, I don't have a problem. My family has been here 105 years."