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Planning Board adamant in refusing to approve cell tower

By Stephen Betts | Jan 06, 2021
Photo by: Stephen Betts Rockland Planning Board Chairman Erik Laustsen spoke during the Board's Jan. 5 meeting.

Rockland — The Rockland Planning Board remained adamant in its refusal to approve a cell tower, despite the insistence by the City Council and city's outside attorney claiming approval must be granted following a settlement in federal court.

The board voted Jan. 5 to send a memo to the City Council asking that the board be allowed to consult with an attorney that would represent the Planning Board and its interests.

The city has directed the Planning Board to approve a 120-foot cellular communication tower on Camden Street next to Pizza Hut proposed by Bay Communications III LLC. The City Council approved a settlement with Bay Communications after the cell tower company filed a lawsuit in federal court.

The Planning Board rejected the cell tower application at a Feb. 18 meeting, which led to the communications company filing the lawsuit.

The City Council voted to accept the settlement at its Nov. 9 meeting.

When asked for a comment after the Jan. 5 Planning Board meeting, Mayor Ed Glaser said, "I don't know all of the ramifications of their continued denial of the permit, but I expect that our attorneys will hear from Bay Communications' attorney in the next few days, and we will have to answer their complaint.

"I do believe that we are beyond the time wherein hiring yet another attorney will get us an answer that we would prefer," Glaser said. "I'm not a lawyer, so like everyone else I will all have to wait to see what happens next."

As part of the settlement between the city and Bay Communications, the attorneys came up with findings on the cell tower project that the Planning Board has been directed to sign.

Planning Board Chairman Erik Laustsen pointed out the Planning Board was never part of those settlement talks. He said he does not understand why board members were not brought into the talks with the City Council on terms of any settlement, particularly since the Planning Board was listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.

A Nov. 25 letter from the city's attorney on the case, James Katsiaficas, stated if the terms of the settlement, approved by the federal court, are not followed, the City Council and Planning Board could be found in contempt of court.

"If the Planning Board does not issue the necessary approvals and permits, plaintiff Bay Communications will file a motion for contempt, seeking to enforce the terms of the judgment and likely asking for sanctions; the demand for sanctions would likely include some lump sum monetary award (to compensate Bay Communications for certain losses) and attorney fees," the city's attorney stated in his letter.

The attorney said each Planning Board member could be fined $100 for refusing to or neglecting to perform a duty of office.

Laustsen and other board members said, however, they cannot sign off on approving the project including waivers, variances and permits. He said the Planning Board does not have the legal authority to issue waivers of city ordinances, variances or issue permits. A variance is needed because the tower would be located too far from the road, violating the city's setback law.

One of the findings the attorneys came up with and directed the Planning Board to sign, Laustsen said he could not agree to sign off on. It claims a sidewalk is not necessary in front of the lot where the cell tower will be located, and that there are no sidewalks on that side.

The Planning Board chairman pointed out that the board's policy has long been for new developments on Camden Street to have sidewalks, so eventually there will be sidewalks on both sides of the street along the entire road. And, he pointed out, that there are sidewalks on the west side of Camden Street in some locations.

He also questioned the proposed finding that Bay Communications submitted a hydrogeological report to the state, and that to provide one to the city would be unduly burdensome.

Laustsen pointed out he took an oath Jan. 5 as part of his re-appointment to the Planning Board, where he swore to uphold city ordinances. He said signing off on the agreement would violate that oath.

Laustsen has served on the Planning Board for 33 years, nearly all those years as chairman.

Planning Board member Carol Maines, a former Rockland city attorney and former Rockland mayor, wrote the memo being sent to the City Council.

The Rockland Planning Board voted against the cell tower project at its Feb. 18 meeting. The tower was opposed by many Rockland residents, who said it would reduce their property values, be an aesthetic nightmare and pose health risks.

In the lawsuit, Bay Communications' lawyers argued that federal law calls for national policy to “make available, so far as possible, to all people of the United States, without discrimination... a rapid, efficient, nationwide and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges, for the purpose of national defense, [and] for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications.”

The results of a radio frequency propagation study revealed a significant gap in wireless service coverage along the heavily developed corridor of Route 1 in the vicinity of 182 Camden St. To remedy the significant gap in service, an additional cell site in Rockland is required, the company states in its lawsuit.

The Planning Board ruled the application did not adhere to a commercial overlay zone approved by the City Council in 2015. Bay Communications argued this overlay zone did not apply.

The Bay Communications plan calls for a six-foot chain-link fence with barbed wire around the base of the tower, which would sit on a 50-by-50-foot stone tower pad. The plan was submitted in September 2019.

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Comments (12)
Posted by: DALE HAYWARD | Jan 07, 2021 09:16

Anna: I hope so. Thanks.

Posted by: ANANUR FORMA | Jan 07, 2021 08:58

Hi Dale, I do think there might be a slight trace of hope.

Posted by: DALE HAYWARD | Jan 06, 2021 20:47

Anna: In due respect I do not understand your posting. I will repeat that the planning board has not been respected properly by the council and I do not see that can change now.

Posted by: ANANUR FORMA | Jan 06, 2021 19:35

Just re-read this.

The word "Structure" is an issue.

Bay Communications said the tower is NOT a structure so is not an issue with the guidelines set by our planning board. I disagree.  Also the 3rd to the last sentence here by Steve Betts- says that Bay Communications said, "an additional cell site in Rockland is "required," (by whom ?).

People have told me that their cell phones work just fine, and that it's AT&T that doesn't work in this area. Bay Communications attorney Jon Springer has told us at mtgs. that they would ONLY put AT&T cell boxes (not correct word) on their tower. Something is rotten. Plenty of cell padding on top of the building where "Breakwater Market Place" is located across from McDonald's. There's also one behind "Fresh off The Farm" on Rte. 1 just up the road a bit, north. Have you noticed that ugly thing, I call it a  "Structure."

Posted by: ANANUR FORMA | Jan 06, 2021 14:15

Hey Dale. The way I take it is  that the once upon a time,  mayor now city council member,

knows rules and regs may not need outside advisors?

Guide them politically..........?  Well, each member is a thinking person, I hope.

Posted by: DALE HAYWARD | Jan 06, 2021 12:45

Anna, in due respect, I do not think the board needs anyone on the council to guide them. I think that is where the problem is.

Posted by: ANANUR FORMA | Jan 06, 2021 10:19

My brother in CT. sent this. I love what he wrote.

"You have a great Planning Board, with gutsy people who are standing up for their role and the City’s ordinances. Whatever happens, they should be applauded for protecting Rockland. Amazing and wonderful that the Chairman has been on the Board for 33 years:  over 3 decades of late night meetings, tins of homework, and running into people around town who are angry at plans he wouldn’t approve.  This guy is special. Also to have the past Mayor on the Board is a big deal in having someone additional  who can guide the Board politically."


Posted by: Jack S Copp | Jan 06, 2021 10:03

It is heartening to know that Erik Laustsen, Carol Maines and the rest of the Planning Board have taken a stand. A stand that is justly and resolutely based in preexisting Rockland codes and rule of law. Codes and laws which prohibit this type of construct in this location. It is shameful how the Planning Board was excluded from the negotiations to settle this matter and to me, it was highly suspect. Were they excluded because of what they had to say would not have fit the mold cast by AT&T NEWEN and Bay Communications? Probably. Our city council decided to knuckle under to these Robber Barons because they said they didn't want a protracted court fight which would have cost the citizens of Rockland tax dollars, while, at the same time they were talking about moving City Hall to the McLain school to tune of 3.2 million dollars? Really?  The fact of the matter is that these cases move very quickly through the courts ( Judges don't like to be zoning boards of appeal) and if Rockland had brought the case it would have been adjudicated in a timely manner and not cost a huge dollar amount. A "Simple review "of the facts would have proven the Planning Board was correct and was justified in law to deny the construction of this tower in that location. Now a court of appeals may have to overturn this settlement because preexisting legal rules, protocols and codes were Not recognized or included, among many other mistakes. To exclude the planning board was a overstepping of authority by City Council and frankly was a usurpation and abuse of power. I support our planning boards efforts to reject this proposal and hope they stand their ground!  It still boggles the mind that the subject of an alternate site was and is still never mentioned (or acted upon) even though there are several to choose from. I realize this technology (may) need to be installed but its troubling that Bay Communications signal gap claims have never been independently verified and after all the other false claims and statements they have made in this whole process, anything they say should be taken with the utmost caution. This transmitter can be built however it can and should be done in a sane thoughtful manner and in a appropriate site. Either through co-location (to share already existing facilities) or relocation to a less objectional (legal) place. I suspect that bay Communications has insisted on this site because they have already invested in surveying 182 Camden Street, which included ground penetrating radar scans and thereby staking their claim to that site so to speak. But they didn't count on our planning boards resolve and it seems they neglected to check through Rocklands codes and rules before insisting on this site. Now this insistence has become a huge problem for everyone. There are other good choices to install this transmitter.  For example there is a huge undeveloped swath of land behind Hannaford shopping center away from everyone,( can't see it and no types of harm could be caused by it) and it would be in a good spot for signal propagation which would satisfy everyone. Win, Win.  But here we are, still in a struggle to stop this tower, to preserve the home values, future commercial appeal of Camden Street, health and safety of our neighbors, friends and families and the very rule of law in Rockland. I recently sent a letter to governor Janet Mills and explained this situation. Her office replied that Maine is a home rule state and it was up to the local authorities (planning board) to settle this matter. I am thankful we have good moral planning board members who adhere to the the spirit and the letter of the law in upholding their office!   I wish them every success in fighting this disgraceful tower on our behalf and pray for a favorable outcome for all our sakes.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Jan 06, 2021 08:11

Heaps of praise to Erik and all the Planning board members for standing up and adhearing to their principals.  Don't let the City use you as a floor mat.

Posted by: DALE HAYWARD | Jan 06, 2021 07:44

Thank you Erik for having the guts to stand up for your belief.

Posted by: ANANUR FORMA | Jan 06, 2021 07:31

Just wondering how many people own AT&T cell phones in the area that is being fought over for this cell tower? What if those people got a new cell phone with Verizon or Red Zone, etc. and ditched AT&T for the good of Rockland? I mean really.... how many people are complaining about "no reception" for  their AT&T cell phones? more than 20?  Has Bay Communications ever shared that number with us?

The general area I'm referring to, if you do not know is next to Pizza Hut on Rte. 1 where the cell tower would be standing.


Why if there are so many satellites up there beaming down radio frequency waves do we need a cell tower? Technology is advancing so quickly I do NOT think it is needed. Prove it to me. I take my health and happiness seriously. Don't YOU?

Posted by: ANANUR FORMA | Jan 06, 2021 07:11

Happy to learn this. Standing by principles that's our Planning Board thank you!!!! As Ed said, who knows what will happen next? I'm still praying for NO cell tower next to so many residents, Christian children's school too close and shopping, plus the look of a cell tower 120+ ft. high smack dab on Re. 1 would be a horrible sight.

FCC is being sued for ignoring research done on health effects. If you think it does not effect you because you do not live in the north part of town, you are mistaken........


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