WELD — The Planning Board took no action on a request to reconsider the AT&T cellphone tower application Wednesday night, March 31.

At the March 17 meeting, the board voted to adopt the findings of fact and conclusions from the Feb. 17 meeting regarding the AT&T SAI Communications’ application for a cellphone tower. It also agreed to discuss the reconsideration request emailed March 8 by the Weld Cell Phone Tower Information Committee.

“There’s no formal process in your ordinance for a request for reconsideration,” Planning Board attorney Zachary Brandwein of Bernstein Shur said. “As a Planning Board you have the right to reconsider your decision. You are not required to vote on the request. If you decide to do nothing or don’t want to reconsider that decision, you don’t have to take a vote. If however you feel it’s appropriate to reconsider, then a motion, second and vote is required to reopen it.”

The Planning Board can discuss it without further input from others, Brandwein said.

Staying with their decision was the suggestion of Planning Board member Thomas Wheeler.

“We’ve reviewed the process, made an initial decision,” he said. “We may have had a couple of procedural hiccups along the line. I think our review of the remand from the Board of Appeals was considerate. We voted and approved adopting our findings of fact. I think we were very thorough.”

The town’s Comprehensive Plan suggests having a Land Use Ordinance to control and conserve important scenic views but that was never voted on, Planning Board member Nancy Stowell said.

“According to the State Planning Office, we would have to have a committee identify and designate scenic views in the town. That inventory then has to go in front of the voters at a town meeting and get approved,” she said. “That never happened so we have not designated viewsheds and we have no land use ordinance. We can’t say there must be a visual impact assessment when it’s not in our municipal ordinance.”

The board has done the due process of the remand, Planning Board member Ernestine Hutchinson said.

“I feel, based on the black and white, we were not able to take into consideration Article 1 and Article 2, the purpose of the code itself,” she said. “We got stuck on interpretation. It’s in the notes we all defined harmoniously differently.

“When I look at this code, it’s not black and white for every single situation,” Hutchinson continued. “My understanding wasn’t until we did this process that the Planning Board can determine or ask for anything we want.”

Not having the visual impact study didn’t help the taxpayers even though the outcome may have been the same, she said.

“There wasn’t a lot of visual,” Hutchinson noted. “I think we had the right to ask the applicant for that documentation and we didn’t.”

The board wasn’t instructed in the beginning, she said.

AT&T says they are a Fortune 500 company, she noted.

“To me, they should have had all that documentation for us even though it wasn’t in the ordinance,” Hutchinson said. “They do it for every single other town they put a tower up. We got very little information and have been struggling from the get go because we got a slide show and they presented what they wanted to.”

The tower application isn’t the same as other applications that have come before the board, she said.

“It’s not a structure, it’s not defined the same way in my mind,” Hutchinson said. “We got very little information and that’s why I abstained from the vote initially because I don’t feel I had the information to make a good decision based on our ordinance.”

Nothing was put in the remand about lighting on top of the tower, she said. If the FAA changes their rules, we could have put in that the tower would have to be shortened to a height where no lights are needed, she noted.

“I’ve been listening to other Planning Board meetings where boards do put restrictions on their applicants,” Hutchinson said. “We’ve never had to go outside the codes, never had this type of commercial, whatever you would call it in our town. That’s where I’m concerned about some of the variables we might have overlooked.”

If AT&T were to put a light on the tower, that would be a modification that would have to go back to the board for approval because it is not in the schematic approved by the Planning Board, Brandwein said. If not, AT&T would be in violation, he noted.

“The purpose of our ordinance is to make sure commercial, recreational and residential are all combining nicely in our town,” she said. “I don’t know if we did that.”

AT&T’s application is for 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 Phillips Road just before Fire Lane 17 and beyond the Weld Inn.

The application was unanimously approved in September 2020, but the decision was appealed.

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.

An email received from the Weld Cell Phone Tower Information Committee after the meeting indicates they will again appeal the decision. That committee sent an email to Planning Board members earlier Wednesday asking to have questions answered since public comment wasn’t allowed during the meeting.

In the findings of fact that the particular site was selected, in part, because it was less visually impactful than other locations within the AT&T coverage gap area and because AT&T found a willing landowner to lease land for the tower siting, the email notes. Those appealing the decision want to know how that statement can be true without having done the visual impact studies and where the actual coverage gap area is. Ambiguity in the deed, how the tower impacts abutting neighbors, how the landscape will be preserved or softened to minimize those impacts, tower removal should it become obsolete, and concern about a light at the top of the tower were other concerns noted in the email.

“At the Board of Appeals meeting on January 11, 2021, Attorney Aga Dixon stated that the Weld Planning Board has the jurisdiction to mitigate the location of this cell tower. Will you please explain why you wouldn’t BOTH increase the safety and cell coverage for our community, AS WELL AS preserve the integrity of our landscape?” the Weld Cell Phone Tower Information Committee email to Planning Board members reads.

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