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Planning Board gets attorney, will not OK cell tower

By Stephen Betts | Jan 22, 2021
Photo by: Stephen Betts The Rockland City Council, Rockland Planning Board and attorneys met Jan. 21 and held a closed-door meeting to discuss the lawsuit filed by Bay Communications III LLC.

Rockland — The Rockland Planning Board has obtained its own attorney to represent members in the federal lawsuit brought by a cell tower company that was denied approval to erect a tower on Camden Street.

The City Council, Planning Board and attorneys for both groups held a closed-door meeting Jan. 21. Councilor Louise MacLellan-Ruf voted against the executive session, expressing a concern earlier that she would then be prevented from publicly talking about the legal dispute.

Bay Communications III LLC is asking the court to fine the city $1,000 for every day it fails to grant approval for the cell tower. In addition, if approval is not granted by Feb. 4, the company wants Rockland to pay $77,038 to the company for its legal costs.

If that fails to get the city to approve the cell tower, the company is asking the court to appoint a third party to have the authority to approve the project.

The City Council voted to accept a settlement with Bay Communications in November 2020, which would require the Planning Board to approve the cell tower. The City Council has argued that federal law is clear that the city can't prohibit such towers under the city's laws at the time of the review. The Council consulted with two attorneys who specialize in federal communication law.

The Planning Board has been adamant, however, that they cannot approve the set of findings they were ordered to sign.

The board was not consulted before the settlement was reached last year, and the agreement calls for the board to approve the project with specific findings members say are false.

The city's attorneys have informed the Planning Board that its members could be fined $100 as individuals for refusing or neglecting to perform a duty of office.

At the Jan. 21 meeting, the Planning Board members were represented by Long Island attorney Andrew Campanelli. Planning Board Chair Erik Laustsen said Campanelli specializes in cell tower litigation.

Two neighbors who live nearby to where the cell tower would be erected — Ananur Forma and Jack Copp — paid for the attorney to attend the online meeting on behalf of the Planning Board. Laustsen said the members hope other interested parties will help defray the costs of the lawyer for subsequent work on the case.

He said the city has not offered to pay for the Planning Board's legal representation.

The Planning Board has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday evening (Jan. 26) at 6:15 to officially retain Campanelli.

Rockland Mayor Ed Glaser said the discussions were civil, but it is clear the board will not vote for the project.

He said the city's attorneys on this case will file something in federal court in response to the contempt request. He said he could not comment further, because the matter involves pending litigation.

The two groups met for more than an hour before the City Council met online with its attorneys, without the Planning Board and its lawyer in attendance.

The Rockland Planning Board voted against the cell tower project at its February 2020 meeting. The tower was opposed by many Rockland residents, who said it would reduce property values, be an aesthetic nightmare and pose health risks.

Bay Communications claimed the tower does not need to meet conditions of the Rockland commercial overlay zone, because the city failed to updated its zoning map identifying the area covered by the zone. The Planning Board disagreed with that point.

The city's regular attorney Mary Costigan, issued an opinion in late 2019 that the city's Planning Board cannot consider environmental impacts including health effects from radio frequency emissions. The attorney said the 1996 Federal Communications Act prohibits local communities from considering this issue.

No court date has been scheduled for the contempt hearing.

Rockland is represented by attorneys James Katsiaficas and Dawn Harmon, both of Portland.

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Comments (6)
Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Jan 24, 2021 11:30

Those poor residents of the acres. The Home Depot on one side, possibly a tower on the other side and a nursing home complex to the rear.

Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Jan 24, 2021 09:53

Or perhaps Stephen, the city could fire the board via Twitter and replace them with unqualified 'acting' members that will do its bidding like Trump did for 4 years?

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Jan 24, 2021 09:02

Unfortunately, the lawyers are the only ones happy to keep this all going.  Wouldn't it be easier and cheaper if the entire planning board just "resigned".  That way they would be off the hook and the City could appoint a new board to do their bidding.  You know kinda similar to what "sleepy Joe" Biden is doing right now.

Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Jan 22, 2021 22:12

"The tower was opposed by many Rockland residents, who said it would reduce property values" .... Hey... put it next to my place !!! I'm all for a lower valuation and lower taxes and an antennae is preferable to some neighbors, the encroaching flatlanders in particular. Perhaps I could hang pot buoys on it and string its base with fairy lights to make it more aesthetically pleasing.

To be fair, I support the anti-antennae group to continue their legal fight .... as long as I don't have to pay for it.

Posted by: Elizabeth Dickerson | Jan 22, 2021 17:38

People don't usually invest in building plans just based on looking at a map. They go into the code office and talk to someone, they apply for permits, the permits go before the pertinent boards as needed. So in which case, it was probably known that the commercial overlay zone existed and a variance from that zone was needed, Stating that somehow because the city failed to update the zoning maps sounds more like finding the reason to do what one wants to do because they see a possible crack in the law rather than simply not knowing that the law existed.

Posted by: ANANUR FORMA | Jan 22, 2021 15:11

and the beat goes on.

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