Town considers changing cell tower regulations; two new applications filed

FILE PHOTO | Southold officials are considering amending the town code on cell phone towers.

With two applications for cell phone towers currently before the Southold Town building department, town officials are considering making amendments to the town code regarding the placement and construction of transmission towers.

The first application, filed Nov. 8 by AT&T, proposes constructing a 100-foot cell phone tower on the vacant lot behind Town Hall on Travelers Street. In addition to the tower, the application also calls for the construction of a small equipment storage shed on the site. The grand total for the project is approximately $125,000, according to the application.

The Town is currently in the process of drawing up a lease agreement for the property with the major wireless provider, Supervisor Scott Russell said Tuesday.

“AT&T approached us about a location for a cell phone tower; they are very much looking to get one in Southold,” Mr. Russell said. “They were originally looking to locate it on a private piece of land, but if it was constructed on Town land it would be an additional revenue source for us.”

With traditional revenue sources, such as real estate taxes, for the Town drying up, Mr. Russell said the project could create a new source of funding that would in return benefit taxpayers.

The revenue would come primarily from leasing the land, he said.  While there is a signed agreement between the two parties, because they are still in leaseholder discussions Mr. Russell could not immediately provide estimates on the total revenues for the town, he said.

Although it would be located on town-owned land, AT&T would need to receive variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals and a special exemption from the Planning Board in order to move forward, Mr. Russell said. The current town code does not permit the construction of cell towers in historic districts outside of buildings. The reasoning was to obscure large towers from public view, Mr. Russell said.  However, the town is considering making small changes to the code, as more and more town property is becoming a part of the historic corridor, he said.

“There is a push to create more historic districts and for the most part many fire departments would be located in these historic corridors; so we are looking to make the code not be an encumbrance to fire departments that need to put these towers up for communication,” Mr. Russell said.

Meanwhile, a quarter mile away from Town Hall on Youngs Avenue in Southold, Sea Tow is also proposing to build a cell phone/emergency transmission tower on its property.

The application called for the construction of a $300,000, 190-foot tower, which applicant and Sea Tow Captain Joe Frohnhoefer said would help bridge the gap in for emergency communication in Southold Town.

“Our communications out here are stunned at this point,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “The tower down at the police station is 140-feet, but if anything ever happens to that, there is no back-up. With this we are talking incredible coverage in Southold between the fire departments and the police.”

Mr. Frohnhoefer said the height of the proposed cell tower is advantageous for Southold Town and would improve transmissions to Fishers Island, Plum Island, Shelter Island and even as far as New York City.

“We’re in a position to get a straight line shot to these places,” he said. “All of Southold could be a wireless hot spot.”

The United States Department of Homeland Security, Coast Guard, Verizon, Sprint and AT&T have all expressed interest in using Sea Tow’s cell tower, should it be constructed, Mr.Frohnhoefer said.

The Town would also receive tax revenue from the carrier that uses the tower, Mr. Frohnhoefer pointed out.

The building department denied the initial application, filed earlier this month, because the height of the tower exceeds the limits established by the town code. Sea Tow is now seeking the necessary ZBA variances and a special exemption from the Planning Board, Mr. Frohnhoefer said.

“Where we are nobody will see it that much,” he said. “It won’t affect any houses because it will be behind trees. I think the Planning Board will understand the need for this project.”

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