HARVARD — Cingular Wireless wants to erect a cell tower on land the company has purchased on Bolton Road, but the company needs site plan approval from the Planning Board and a zoning variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals in order to do so.
According to Cingular representative Douglas Wilkins, a Planning Board hearing was in progress when he made the company’s case to the Zoning Board of Appeals on June 14.
Framing his case in zoning criteria, Wilkins explained how a combination of constraints equal a hardship for the company and why it needs “dimensional relief” from the setback requirement.
Citing topography, obstructions such as a well head, soil conditions, buffer zones protecting a pond and wetlands, and an irregular lot line, he said the only suitable site on the property places the proposed cell tower closer to a house than zoning allows.
The site plan shows the tower wedged in by a water tower. Wilkins said, due to the noted issues, it was the only place left on the land that was high enough.
“There wasn’t a lot of leeway,” he said.
The proposed facility also includes a shelter, propane tank, generator and an access road. The tower enclave will be enclosed with a gated fence.
On the plus side, Wilkins said the locale is in a wooded area where the “tree-type” cell tower will be camouflaged by foliage.
“No tower is completely invisible,” he said, producing a thick sheaf of photos to show how “well-screened” this location is.
A recent balloon test shows the specific spots from which the tower would be visible.
Kendall also noted that Cingular’s plans call for clear-cutting 4,500 square feet of land.
There were more positives than negatives, said Wilkins. The proposed Bolton Road tower will improve cell phone service in Harvard including in the center of town, which has historically been a dead zone. That is good news from a public safety standpoint.
Cingular engineer Ernesto Chua showed existing-versus-envisioned coverage ranges on a series of maps.
A big blank area in Harvard means no signal, he said. The new tower would provide a needed link in a chain of towers and cover blank spots.
But others pointed out that Cingular is not the only provider in the area.
“It seems to me there are enough towers,” said Steve Jenkins, of 82 Slough Rd. “Are any more planned?”
Wilkins said there were.
“Why not just tie into Carlson’s?” Jenkins asked, naming another cell tower in town on land belonging to the Carlson farm and orchards.
“Emerging technologies” call for stronger, higher-quality signals, said Wilkins. Once the new tower is up, Cingular’s antenna on the other tower will be removed.
The new tower will also accommodate an AT&T antenna that is now on the other tower.
Another abutter, noting a town restriction stating that cell towers must be two miles apart, posed the question, is the Bolton Road site that far from the Carlson tower?
The Planning Board can approve the new tower “under certain conditions,” said Chairman Christopher Tracey, even if the sites are less than two miles apart.
“These are not zoning issues We need to hear the applicant’s request for a variance,” he said.
The zoning law states that cell towers must have a fall zone no more than 10 times the height of the tower and/or no less than 500 feet from an existing dwelling.
According to board consultant James Zimmer, the cell tower site comes closer than 500 feet from two houses, not just one. He also noted a few errors in the plot plan. However, he presented a contrasting view of the foliage, which he said includes a lot of white pines.
In 2001, the ZBA clashed with Cingular over the Carlson tower and ended up in land court.
“Abutters were very unhappy” and expressed a “strong desire” to relocate it, Zimmer said.
In addition to its remote locale, the new tower offers wider coverage to reach areas where signals “peter out” all the way to the Bolton line, he said.
Asked if there was someplace else to put the tower without a variance, Zimmer summed the matter up from several angles including height versus coverage, vertical spaces between co-locators — antennas — and the extent to which total height rises over the trees.
All things considered, “it is a tight fit,” he said.
The hearing was continued to June 28.