OTISFIELD — More than two years after the town’s only cell tower application erupted in a bitter legal battle, voters will be presented with an amended ordinance that may result in the eventual siting of a cell tower.

At a public hearing Thursday night at the Community Hall, selectmen and members of the Wireless Telecommunications Facilities Ordinance outlined proposed changes to the 36-page document. A major one is the appeals process.

The revisions and request to do away with the Board of Appeals process are the direct result of a more than yearlong battle in 2012 over the application by U.S. Cellular to install a 180-foot communications tower on Scribner Hill, selectmen said.

Selectmen are submitting a separate warrant article requesting elimination of the Board of Appeals process in any future wireless communication tower applications. The board said it will not only expedite the appeal process, but reduce legal costs for the town by sending an appeal directly to Superior Court. The process would only apply to the Wireless Telecommunications Facilities Ordinance.

“I think we learned that didn’t work,” Selectman Len Adler said.

The appeals process allowed a group of residents to tie up the cell tower application town and court proceedings, costing both sides thousands of dollars in legal fees. The group challenged the permitting process for the application.


In May 2013, nearly 16 months after the Planning Board approved the application that officials say would have accommodated equipment for cellphone companies and the town’s Fire Department, U.S. Cellular decided not to build the tower.

Otisfield spent nearly $50,000 to defend itself against legal action by a grass-roots group of residents known as the Friends of Scribner Hill. The legal issue died when U.S. Cellular withdrew its application and the Oxford County Superior Court dismissed the case.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Hal Ferguson told residents Thursday that the appeals stalled the process by 11 months, cost the town thousands of dollars to litigate and probably cost the town its opportunity to have wireless communication.

Several people at the hearing questioned the wisdom of appealing directly to Superior Court.

John Poto, a one-time vocal opponent of the U.S. Cellular approval process who later worked with the committee to help revise problem areas, said he would prefer that those aggrieved by the process be allowed one shot at the local appeals boards. He said it would, in part, save money on both sides.

But selectmen said the volunteer appeals board lacks the expertise necessary to fully understand some of the technical issues involved in cell tower siting.


“It’s about direct appeal to the right entity,” Selectman Rick Micklon said.

Ordinance Policy Review Committee Chairman Joseph Zilinsky told residents Thursday that the committee approached their job with no agenda.

The major revisions in the ordinance – besides the appeals process – included making the document a “stand alone” ordinance so is does not require cross-referencing to other documents and is not affected by changes in any other ordinance.

Further, the revised document allows the Planning Board to seek outside independent help for issues beyond its expertise.

While it does not reduce the maximum tower height of 180 feet tower, it does require the applicant to explain why it needs to be at that height and to investigate if it can co-locate on another tower.

The revised ordinance requires measuring from the perimeter of the facility, not the property line, for developing a list of who needs to be notified of an application. For example, if a three-acre cell tower facility is sited on a 500-acre property, the distance for notification is measured from the facility perimeter, not the edge of the 500-acre property line.


It does not reduce the maximum height of 180 feet tower, but it does require the applicant to explain why it needs to be at that height and to investigate if it can co-locate on another tower.

The committee used language from the Maine Municipal Association and the cell tower ordinance in Raymond in drafting the revisions.

If passed by voters, the appeals process change will apply to the ordinance whether the revised document is approved or not.

The annual town meeting gets underway at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 27, in the Community Hall on Route 121.


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