Rome ZBA OK’s use permit for cell tower

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ROME — Voicing their opposition regarding its “lack of aesthetics” but with “no other option,” city Zoning Board of Appeals members approved a special use permit for Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems, LLC, d/b/a Verizon Wireless, to install a 120-foot cell tower at 1840 Black River Blvd., during a special meeting held Wednesday at City Hall.

During its regular meeting June 1, the zoning board tabled a request for a special use permit — construction of a new wireless communications tower in a C2 zone — to construct a communications facility that would consist of the 120-foot tower with a 6,400 square-foot lease area at 1840 Black River Blvd.

Albany Attorney Scott Olson, representing Verizon Wireless, had explained that the new owner of Rome Towers apartment complex, Barrington Residential Property Management, of Rochester, does not wish to extend the lease on the current tower located on the roof of the apartment complex. That lease is due to expire in October and without a replacement tower, Verizon customers would lose service in that area, he said.

Zoning board members questioned Olson about alternate locations for the new tower at its June 1 meeting, including Potter/Turin roads, Rome Health, or even a local golf course.

On the Turin/Potter roads location, Verizon “already has a tower on that tower, so we can’t go on that tower because we’re there already, and there’s nothing we can change to make it have service to this (Black River Boulevard) area,” Olson explained.

Another location requested was the existing AT&T tower located near Rome Post Office.

“We submitted that to our engineers, but that is about four-tenths of a mile from the Downtown Rome site, and our analysis shows if we put something there, from a network perspective, it’s too close to other sites and it wouldn’t reach the area we intend to reach,” Olson said.

He said, “The golf course was also mentioned and we looked into that. One problem involves one frequency we’ll be using.”

Olson went on to explain that FAA regulations that went into effect at the end of 2021 requires that “you can’t put sites near airports with a C-Band frequency — it affects piloting gear, so it’s not recommended that close” to Griffiss International Airport, the attorney said.

Olson also explained that a 120 foot cell tower was needed because if the height was reduced, say to 100 feet, “several hundred people” would not have coverage.

Zoning Board member Jon Maggiolino asked if Verizon ever received a response from Rome Health. In prior meetings before the zoning board and city Planning Board, Olson explained that Verizon reached out to Rome Health for possibly locating a tower on top of the hospital’s roof, but they never received a response from several calls and emails.

On Wednesday, Olson said they were approached and told the highest location on the hospital’s roof would be at about 55 feet, but the tower at Rome Towers is currently at 90 feet. In discussions about putting the tower on Rome Health property, “we didn’t think the people living across the street would want a tower on the ground,” said Olson.

Zoning Board member James DiCastro asked about a flagpole location, but Verizon Electro Mechanical Engineer Daniel Schultz said a flagpole “is not suited for this application, it’s more for a smaller footprint and at the 120 feet” needed, “it’s just not doable.”

Schultz added, “The amount of equipment needed and what we would be able to put in” the flagpole, “is minimal and it would immediately take away a lot of capacity. There’s no way a flagpole area would cover as much as a tower. It’s like comparing a lawn mower engine to an airplane engine.”

Zoning Board Chairman John Sorbello said one comment was received from the public that was in opposition of placing the 120-foot tower at 1840 Black River Blvd.

Douglas Arthur, of West Garden Street, said he was in opposition of constructing a tower in a major location for restaurants and businesses. He said placing the tower at 1840 Black River Blvd., “would be a major step backwards” as far as development of that business corridor and that Griffiss Business and Technology Park “would be the logical place for a tower” and that it would not have a negative impact on aviation.

As for the remaining tower at Rome Towers, Olson said Verizon did offer the current owner more money to keep the location, yet they still refused to renew the lease. He said AT&T also has a lease for a tower on the roof of Rome Towers and once their lease expires, AT&T will also be forced to move.

“We offered more money, and we wanted to save it,” Olson said. “We had plans to refurbish and upgrade what we had there.”

A call for comment to Property Manager Thomas Tydings, of Barrington Residential Property Management, was not returned.

Once the tower at Rome Towers is lost, “People will not be able to dial 911 in an emergency or call who they need to call,” the attorney added. “There’s also the hospital and hospital employees who would lose service.”

DiCastro then asked if the 120-foot Verizon cell tower could be built in a way that allowed extensions, for example, once the AT&T tower lease expired. Olson said the tower could be built to allow up to four extensions, and invited the zoning board to include that as a “condition” of approval on the special use variance.

“If you want us to build it that way, we will,” Olson said.

When it came down to the board’s vote, all zoning board members were in agreement that aesthetically, the proposed tower was not in the best interest for the people of Rome. However, DiCastro said, “We’re disappointed they (Rome Towers) didn’t renew the lease, and here they’re in that business, and now we need to do this. This is going to be in a corridor that’s growing by leaps and bounds, but it doesn’t look like we have any alternative.”

A motion was made to approve granting the special use permit on the condition Verizon build the tower to accommodate other possible extensions in the future, which was unanimously approved.

On June 7, the planning board approved a negative declaration on a Site Environmental Quality Review, and gave its approval of the site plan review for the telecommunications tower and facility.

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