WELD — The Planning Board voted 4-0 Wednesday night that nine of 10 criteria in the town building ordinance were met in AT&T SAI Communications’ application for a cellphone tower.

Chairwoman Naomi Doughty, Thomas Wheeler, Nancy Stowell and Ernestine Hutchinson voted that the application included the title and interest in the land.

The 10th criteria concerning a building ordinance standard that structures blend into the surroundings received a 3-0 vote, with Hutchinson abstaining.

A fifth board member, Bernard Rackliffe, was absent.

The application was unanimously approved in September 2020, but the decision was appealed. Wednesday’s meeting was the start of addressing a list of issues raised in the appeal.

AT&T is proposing a 190-foot lattice tower inside a 50- by 50-foot fenced compound. A walk-in shelter at the base of the tower would include a generator for emergency service. The tower would allow spots for three additional carriers and one for the town. The tower would be erected on land leased from Kevin and Holly Cochran off of the Phillips Road just before Fire Lane 17 and beyond the Weld Inn.

The Planning Board held an informational meeting in July that raised many questions and concerns about the proposal. A decision was tabled in August because the board wanted technical and legal advice.

After approving the application, an appeal was filed, and after two meetings in January the Board of Appeals sent the application back to the Planning Board citing its failure to meet specific requirements.

The Board of Appeals determined the Planning Board concluded incorrectly that the deed AT&T submitted showed sufficient proof of right title and interest to the land being leased from the Cochrans. Additionally, it said the Planning Board failed to address each of the nine standards included under Article 21, the commercial and industrial structures section of the Weld Building Ordinance.

The Board of Appeals sent it back to the Planning Board to make further findings of fact, Planning Board attorney Zachary Brandwein of Bernstein Shur said at Wednesday’s meeting held via Zoom.

Besides the four board member, about 50 others attended. The public could not ask questions or comment during the meeting, although many used the chat feature to weigh in.

“I do think the first thing to address is the applicant’s right title and interest,” Brandwein said. He suggested taking up each standard from Article 21 individually.

If the Planning Board looks back in the record and determines after debate that there’s not evidence in the record that allows the board to make a decision about those criteria or right title and interest, the board can ask the applicant to submit additional information, he said.

At that point, the board would have to provide opportunity for other folks to offer comment about the new information submitted, Brandwein said.

“Your job is to do your best at interpreting the ordinance and applying the facts of the record to the criteria in the ordinance,” he said. “You can’t make a determination on whether the ordinance is valid or not, you have to act as if all are valid.”

“During the initial review of the application, we didn’t realize we should be asking for their lease,” Chairwoman Doughty said regarding the issue of right title and interest. “They do have it, it was submitted well in advance, March 30, 2020.”

Using the memorandum of lease as a finding of fact, the board voted unanimously that AT&T did have right title and interest.

Wheeler referred to the general notes accompanying the application regarding Article 21.1 which laid out the efforts to be made to return the area as near as possible to its natural state.

The references given are pretty clear, Hutchinson said. They need to be to obtain permits through other agencies, she said.

After much discussion, a decision on Article 21.2 was tabled until the other seven sections were addressed.

Article 21.2 of the Weld Building Ordinance reads, “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.”

The board was able to cite page numbers in either the construction plans or record to verify the application met the other sections of the ordinance.

Harmonious is a totally subjective word, Stowell said during the debate on Article 21.2.

If not for the height of the tower (over 10 feet), AT&T wouldn’t have needed a building application, Wheeler said. The building will be constructed of latticework which is more appropriate than a solid post, he said.

Hutchinson disagreed.

“We do have a viewshed,” she said. “It’s been discussed in these meetings, the viewsheds made by the state park when we asked for information.

“I’ve struggled with this,” she said. “We do have two state park parking lots that will be impacted by this.”

The Planning Board wasn’t provided with other sites by the applicants, all there is for fact is what is being proposed, Hutchinson said.

One has to be allowed somewhere, Doughty said.

“When you say nothing’s impacted by the tower, you don’t know that,” Hutchinson said. “We’re going on what the applicant is saying … There’s no documentation.”

Hutchinson said she didn’t know what the tower would look like, what color it would be.

“We didn’t ask the questions,” she said. “Things were implied on what we could or couldn’t do.”

Wheeler thought there was documentation to address 21.2

Terrain is not just height, it’s trees, taking everything into consideration, Hutchinson said.

Citing pages in the administrative record and the engineering plans, the board voted 3-0 that the applicant had met the criteria in Article 21.2.

Hutchinson abstained.

“Are we doing the best we can,” she asked. “I’m looking at the whole thing. If I go simplistically with the words, I’m stuck in the middle. I don’t have all the information. It’s not defined.”

At the next Planning Board meeting, the findings of fact and conclusions will be reviewed. If found to be accurate, they would be adopted.

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