Otisfield group appeals cell tower approval

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OTISFIELD — A group of residents is challenging the Planning Board’s unanimous decision on Jan. 17 to approve construction of a 180-foot tall cell tower off Scribner Hill.

The hearing before the five-member Board of Appeals will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6, in the Municipal Building.

“I filed an appeal to the town challenging this approval based on the fact that the Planning Board failed to adhere to all of the review guidelines of the ordinance,” John Poto, a resident of Cobb Hill Road, said.

He and others who make up a group called Friends of Scribner Hill contend that the Planning Board failed to comply with two sections of the town’s Wireless Telecommunication Siting Ordinance and some of the goals of the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

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The board approved a permit application by KJK Wireless, which is representing the interests of U.S. Cellular, to site a cell tower on leased land on Scribner Hill by Ivory Hill Road.

The approval included conditions that the company submit a design for a fence at the bottom of the access road to prevent people from going up to the tower base and that a bond be submitted that would allow the town to dismantle the structure if U.S. Cellular abandoned it.

The Planning Board has also required that the generators be tested only Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and that the town’s public safety departments be allowed to utilize the tower.

Construction of the tower was set to start in June and take five weeks.

In his appeal, Poto said the Planning Board failed to acquire information that was requested regarding lower height coverage data and alternative locations for the tower, and did not require any type of concealment on the tower.

Poto said the proposed tower would be sited in a residential area at a height of approximately 180 feet. The indigenous tree growth in the area is about 80 percent deciduous trees and about 50 feet tall. There are about 20 percent pine trees in the area at about 65 feet tall, he said.

“This 180-foot tower will be roughly 120 feet above the tree line. Does a tower located on the highest site in town need to be this tall?” he asked in the appeal.

Poto said the Planning Board neglected to ask any questions about concealment of the tower and never discussed it prior to the public hearing.

Poto also said the meeting was held in the winter when many taxpayers were away. He said the legal notice of the public hearing failed to mention that a tower was part of the project and he questions whether all the abutters were properly notified.

Poto said in the administrative appeal that the Planning Board failed to take steps to satisfy the intent of the Comprehensive Plan in “promoting orderly development of the town with minimal impacts on existing uses,” and to “protect the scenic and visual character of the community.”

“You can see it from very close and from away,” Poto said.

Planning Board Chairman Stan Brett declined to comment on the administrative appeal this week.

Selectman Rick Micklon, who attended all three meetings about the permit request, including the public hearing, said the burden of proof will be on the appellants (Poto and the Friends of Scribner Hill) and not the Planning Board to prove that the Planning Board and code enforcement officer did not do its due diligence in approving the permit request.

“He (Poto) has the right to appeal and I support that right to appeal,” Micklon said. The question of “did they (the Planning Board) do their due diligence is a matter for the Appeals Board.”

The Appeals Board will look at evidence and possibly question members of the Planning Board and code enforcement officer about the issues in the appeal, Micklon said.

If Friends of Scribner Hill does not agree with the Board of Appeals decision, it can appeal to the Maine Superior Court.

The town has an ordinance that provides a process and set of standards for the construction of wireless telecommunications facilities. It is, in part, designed to protect the scenic and visual character of the community and ensure that the town can fairly and responsibly protect the public health, safety and welfare of residents.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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