Rockland Planning Board rejects cell tower

By Stephen Betts | Feb 18, 2020
Photo by: Stephen Betts Fred Bucklin detailed Tuesday evening Feb. 18 his consultant's report for the city that concluded that home values are not harmed by being near a communication tower.

Rockland — The Rockland Planning Board voted 3-0 to reject a proposed 120-foot cellular communication tower for Camden Street.

The public in attendance erupted into applause after the board took the vote Feb. 18 after nearly three hours of discussion.

Attorney Jonathan Springer of New Hampshire, who represents Bay Communications and Northeast Wireless Communications, said he had no comment on whether the companies would appeal the denial to federal court. Springer said earlier in the meeting that the federal court is the route for an appeal.

Board Chairman Erik Laustsen read a statement before the vote that the application would be detrimental and injurious to the neighborhood.

While the tower would have been on a commercial lot at 182 Camden St. next to Pizza Hut, the lot is adjacent to the Pen Bay Acres neighborhood and the Shore Village housing complex.

The Planning Board also ruled that the application did not adhere to a commercial overlay zone approved by the City Council in 2015.

The communications company submitted its application in September and informed the city in a Jan. 31 letter saying that a Federal Communications Commission regulation requires municipalities to act on an application within 150 days of that submission. That meant the decision had to be made at the Feb. 18 meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, an appraiser hired by the city concluded that property values are not harmed by having a communication tower located next to them.

Neighbors argued that the cell tower would harm property values, have a potential harmful health impact on neighbors, and would be an aesthetic nightmare.

"We looked at the cell towers located at 64 Mountain Road, 40 Benner Hill Road, 8 Dodge Mountain Road, and 143 Rankin St. and their neighboring properties. Having reviewed the cell towers and monopole features and sales in their close proximity, I have concluded that there is no loss in property values at these four locations," stated Fred Bucklin of Bucklin Appraisal LLC.

The results were presented Feb. 18 to the Rockland Planning Board prior to the start of its 5:15 p.m. meeting.

"The proposed cell monopole located at 182 Camden Street is similar to the monopole located at Dodge Mountain. Pen Bay Acres, which is the neighborhood that backs up to 182 Camden St. lot,is a similar neighborhood to the Rankin Street neighborhood," the Bucklin report states.

Buckling told people at the Feb. 18 meeting that he serves as a consultant for the city and this was not an appraisal but looked at whether a monopole would impact values.

The city hired the firm but the wireless companies are paying the city for expenses.

This finding is in opposition to the contention of neighbors who oppose the proposal by Bay Communications III LLC and Northeast Wireless Communications to erect a 120-foot tall communication tower on Camden Street.

Residents continued their criticism of the tower at the Feb. 18 meeting.

"If you built an outhouse you would not put it on the front lawn. This is the front lawn of Rockland," neighbor Carol Timberlake of Acadia Drive said.

Jim Gerrish of Katahdin Avenue said the Planning Board should not act on the proposal since the appraisal report was received by the board only shortly before the meeting.

Residents criticized the report, saying it was not done properly. Bucklin defended his work.

Springer said the findings by Bucklin are the same as all other reports he saw.

Springer said no other property owners offered their land as an alternate site for the tower. He maintained if the alternate site were near the current location the same opponents would turn out to oppose the project.

Bay Communications III LLC and Northeast Wireless Communications also claim the tower does not need to meet conditions of the Rockland commercial overlay zone because the city failed to create a zoning map identifying the area covered by the zone. The Planning Board disagreed with that point.

The Planning Board and staff held a closed-door meeting Feb. 12 with attorney James Katsiaficas of Perkins and Thompson of Portland because the city's regular attorney Mary Costigan had a perceived conflict of interest since her firm did work with Bay Communication's lawyer, according to the city.

Katsiaficas practices environmental, land use, municipal, administrative, and real estate law.

Costigan issued an opinion late last year 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.

The Bay Communications plan calls for a 6-foot chain-link fence with barbed wire around the base of the tower, which would sit on a 50-by-50-foot clean stone tower pad. The plan was submitted in September 2019.

The lot has been vacant for at least 20 years. Richard and Sherry Thacker of Brunswick received approvals in 2000 and 2005 to build an Arby's Restaurant on the property.

The couple never moved ahead with the project.

The Thackers bought the property in 1999 from Agnes Firth, who operated a small boarding house there. That house has since been demolished.

The cell tower will be the only item on the Feb. 18 meeting. A proposal by the Sail, Power and Steam Museum on Mechanic Street for a new 4,000-square-foot building will not be heard that evening. That project is tentatively scheduled to be heard at a meeting in mid-March.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Debby Hansen | Feb 19, 2020 10:06

Thank you to the Planning Board for their hard work and due diligence, for arriving at a proper, researched decision. Thank you to the  residents who added so much to the discussion.

Posted by: ananur forma | Feb 18, 2020 21:32

Thank you to the Planning Board for standing strong in support of the people.I felt the attorney to be somewhat threatening with federal law potentials against us. The board is made up of human beings like you and me. I am so very grateful for their brave decision, for us, all of us in Rockland. The look of our city will not be ruined. yahooooo! I don't have to move away! Now, we all need to support the city council to move forward (quickly) with the amendment to the ordinance which states in detail (thx to Valli) how we will prevent a cell tower from moving in too close to a neighborhood in our town. Thank you to Attorney Springer (for Bay Communications Towers)  for helpful hints as to explaining to us what words and how to define limiting height of towers, he does indeed have compassion.  What a great meeting tonight. So many people came out as Jack said, even though the roads were slippery. Also good fortune for the woman in our neighborhood who wants to sell her house and has been waiting & waiting to know if the tower will go up or not?

* Congratulations*  to you, may your house be sold by "tomorrow."

Posted by: Jack S Copp | Feb 18, 2020 20:59

Thanks to all those who braved the snow and came to the meeting tonight. Thanks to the Planning Board for making the decision to deny the cell tower application. Thanks to Ananur for gathering the neighborhood together to stand against this issue. Rockland is a great place to be! Let's keep it that way.

If you wish to comment, please login.