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Sep 2, 2009 1:26 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

More residents oppose the Water Mill cell phone tower

Sep 2, 2009 1:26 PM

Water Mill residents are urging the Southampton Town Planning Board to do all it can to prevent a 77-foot-tall tower from being constructed in the hamlet, arguing that it will ruin the character of the downtown area as well as provide little public benefit.

Omnipoint Communications, which is based in Bellevue, Washington, is proposing to build the tower at 75 Montauk Highway in Water Mill and needs to obtain a special exception permit from the Planning Board to do so. The tower would offer expanded coverage to T-Mobile cell phone customers on the East End, spokesmen for Omnipoint have said.

A public hearing on the application was held at the Planning Board’s meeting on Thursday, August 27, and at least 15 residents railed against the proposed structure.

The tower, however, is considered a public utility by the federal government’s Telecommunications Act of 1996. The act puts severe limits on actions municipalities can take against the construction of towers, Planning Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty explained at the meeting.

“Our ability to regulate the tower is limited,” Mr. Finnerty said. “But we will do a thorough review of the placement of the tower and alternatives.”

There will be another public hearing on the tower on October 8, he said.

Ver Der Ber Landscape Nursery, which has offices in Aquebogue, owns the 1-acre property in question and is currently using it as farmland, Southampton Town officials have said. Under the proposed agreement, Omnipoint Communication would lease the property. The property is residentially zoned.

On Monday, Mr. Finnerty said that the Planning Board is leaning toward requiring Omnipoint to do an extensive environmental review for the tower, which would require the company to show a number of alternative locations for it, to further demonstrate why it needs the tower and to explain how other major cell phone carriers have operated in eastern Southampton Town without constructing towers. More public hearings would also be a part of the environmental review process, he added.

Frank Keenan of Water Mill, who is opposed to the tower, suggested that T-Mobile consider placing an antenna on the lattice tower located at the corner of David Whites Lane and County Road 39. Mr. Finnerty said that the existing tower, which is nearly 200 feet high, could potentially be an option for Omnipoint.

Steve Abramson of Water Mill, who is a member of the Water Mill Citizens Advisory Committee, suggested at the hearing that Omnipoint look into putting the antenna on Quogue Sinclair Fuel oil tanks located just east of Water Mill. “They’re much lower in profile,” he said.

Mr. Finnerty noted on Monday that the tanks are located east of Water Mill on the north side of Montauk Highway adjacent to the Shell gas station.

In response to an inquiry, Jane Builder, a senior manager of external affairs for T-Mobile, wrote in an e-mail that T-Mobile is growing its cell phone network on Long Island and decided that the land on Montauk Highway would provide the best cell phone coverage for residents of the area.

“We’ve thoughtfully evaluated potential locations throughout the area where residents would benefit from enhanced wireless coverage,” Ms. Builder wrote. “We believe that our application for Montauk Highway strikes the optimal balance between the needs of local wireless users and the needs of residents—many of whom rely on cell phones today.”

Ms. Builder also noted in her e-mail that more than 270 million Americans use cell phones, a figure roughly equivalent to 90 percent of the population. She added that half of all 911 calls are made from a cell phone. Those statistics are why it is important to build the tower, she said.

At the public hearing, Water Mill residents bemoaned the visual obstruction the tower would cause.

“This is the golden egg of the South Fork,” Mr. Abramson said. “People come here because it’s beautiful.” He said the tower would be a “big insult” to Water Mill and continue to make Montauk Highway look more commercialized, like County Road 39.

William Dumond of Water Mill said that he bought his home 15 years ago next to a vineyard, figuring the land would not be developed. “The value of my house will go down when this goes up,” he said. “I don’t see a public benefit here. Do us a favor, and don’t approve this.”

William Fay III of Water Mill said that the construction of the tower would ruin the agricultural landscapes that were created through legislation and planning processes years ago.

“An agricultural farm takes precedence over someone plopping down a tower,” Mr. Fay said. “It will look out of place here ... I don’t know why they picked it.”

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Good luck relying on this Planning Board to stop, or even slow, the installation of a 77-foot cell phone tower in Water Mill. Residents will recall the debacle of the Water Mill Station, which the same planning Board OK'd, despite their fervent protests. Chairman Finnerty says the Board is "leaning toward requiring . . . an extensive environmental review" of the tower project, but this Board has "leaned' before, first one way and then the other, a sort of head fake. They've given us Woodfield ...more
By fidelis (199), westhampton beach on Sep 2, 09 9:52 PM
Water Mill is nice, but no more special than any other place in Southampton. All of our hamlets have charm. We all use cell phones, and we all should share the burdens, including towers.
By SusieD (115), Southampton on Sep 3, 09 7:21 AM