WELD —  After more than an hour of discussion and questions, the Planning Board unanimously tabled the building permit application submitted by AT&T for a cellphone tower.

The 190 foot tower as proposed would be across from Lost Cove, just before Fire Lane 17 and beyond the Weld Inn on the Phillips Road. AT&T has leased the site from Kevin and Holly Cochran.

The Planning Board held a meeting via Zoom on the proposal last month, which drew many questions and concerns.

More than 30 people attended the board’s regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday, August 12.

“With the ordinances we have, there’s nothing that says it can’t be done. This is the first step in the process. There are things they have to do before it can be built,” Planning Board Chair Naomi Doughty said.

A question about the last part of Article 1 of the Weld Building Ordinance was raised by Heidi Stowell.

“It says, ‘The purpose is to prevent the intermixing of incompatible residential, recreational, commercial and industrial activities.’ It seems we have a leg to stand on here,” she said.

“We participated in the session 2 weeks ago. Provided the materials we understood needed to be,” AT&T attorney Ted Small said. “People have the misconception of how these sites are selected. AT&T identifies gaps in coverage then an engineering team does an analysis to figure how to close the gap. There’s a very narrow corridor for the tower.”

The selected site would be partially shielded by trees while other locations would be more visible, he said.

“It’s never going to be made invisible. It’s not just closing gaps for consumers, it’s also providing dedicated first responder services,” Small said.

The building permit application is needed before the Department of Transportation permit can be applied for and the National Enviromental Protection Agency requirements considered, AT&T representative Pete Marchand said. NEPA is where the wetland study is done, he added.

“They take over once we get the Town of Weld permit. If they say we can’t build, we won’t build,” Marchand said.

“I agree there are coverage gaps,” Sara Shifrin said.

This is a corporate venture, in some ways seen as a service, she noted. Not everyone has AT&T, coverage isn’t guaranteed, she added.

“There’s no ordinance for elevation. This is a critical conversation for this town to have,” Shifrin said before asking about the possibility of AT&T launching a balloon, similar to what was done elsewhere to see the height of the tower.

“Each town is different. Whatever is required, that’s what we do,” Marchand said.

Attention to Article 21.2 of the ordinance was raised by Maurine Miller. “Proposed structures shall be related harmoniously to the terrain and to existing buildings in the vicinity which have a visual relationship to the proposed buildings. Special attention shall be paid to the bulk, location and height of the building(s) and such natural features as slope, soil type and drainage ways,” she read.

“As someone who cares about this town, put a hold on this. I’m not against cell towers. I don’t like the way in which it’s been presented,” Ted Simanek said.

“We have to keep in mind, once an application has been submitted, future changes in the ordinance are not applicable. If we table this, the reason must be given,” Code Enforcement Officer Katharine Shoaps said.

Federal laws have a shot clock, timing, for action on an application, Small said.

“It’s not an open-ended process. The town has a certain amount of time to act. If don’t, will be in violation,” he said.

A lot of emotion and information has been shared, Planning Board member Ernestine Hutchinson said.

“The board should not be pressured to make a decision at the first meeting after an application is submitted. I don’t even know what I should be asking. I can’t vote either way. I have the right to say that,” she said.

Selectman Richard Doughty commended the Planning Board.

“I try hard not to tell the Planning Board what to do. It’s been spot on every step of the way. I see nothing wrong with taking more time,” he said.

Doughty said he was insulted that the lawyer tried to intimidate the town by talking about the time clock.

If we waive the shot clock rights, we could lose them, Small said.

The town’s attorney will be contacted and AT&T’s application was tentatively scheduled for the next Planning Board meeting, September 9.

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