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$110,000 raised for cell tower lawsuit

WASHINGTON — At the Thursday, Feb. 12, meeting of the Town Board, members resolved to accept a donation of $110,000 as a conditional gift from the Fraleigh Hill Conservation Commission. The funds are to be used solely to pay expenses related to the defense of the lawsuit in Federal Court that Homeland Towers LLC has brought against the town and the Planning Board for turning down their application to build a cell tower on Fraleigh Hill. Fraleigh Hill Conservation Committee’s collection of funds and subsequent donations is the most recent development in this ongoing controversial matter, now spanning more than a year. The application brought forth by the Danbury, Conn., based Homeland Towers, a firm that develops networks of cell towers and rents them to carriers, petitioned the town of Washington Planning Board for site approval to erect a cell tower on Fraleigh Hill, on land belonging to Tonelwin Farm, located at the intersection of Route 44 and the Shunpike.The proposed cell tower is a 105-foot-tall monopole within a 75-foot-by-75-foot fenced equipment compound. AT&T, Homeland Tower’s client, would install a nine-panel antenna at 101-foot center line and a 12-foot-by-20-foot shelter along with an 11-foot-by-5-foot concrete generator pad, to close the gap in cell service Homeland Towers maintains exists along parts of the lightly populated Shunpike.In November 2013, a balloon test at the location and height of the proposed cell tower was conducted to give board members and residents an idea of the cell tower’s visibility. Another balloon test was made last year, as the Fraleigh Hill Conservation Committee found the first trial inadequate. An identical application for a tower on Fraleigh Hill was made 10 years prior, but was never built because the applicant didn’t go forward with it in the required time. Because a larger tower was proposed and approved in the same location, Homeland Towers, as the current applicant, has precedence. Landscape and ecosystem impacts were among the concerns raised at public hearings last year for the proposed cell tower on Fraleigh Hill. Meetings were attended by many residents from the town of Washington and neighboring communities and were sometimes held in the Millbrook firehouse to accommodate the crowd. The visual impact of the proposed cell tower in a historically agricultural area was a concern raised again and again by opponents. The possibility of using small cell technology, because cell tower technology is already obsolete, was discussed. The fact that cell towers have a negative effect on property values was a significant argument against the cell tower. The need for a cell tower, particularly in that location, was questioned. Over the course of the year the town of Washington Planning Board heard from residents, lawyers, engineers and environmental specialists. A public hearing on the cell tower remained open until August of last year.On Sept. 2, 2014, the Planning Board voted unanimously to deny Homeland Tower’s application for site approval to build a cell tower on Fraleigh Hill. The town’s comprehensive plan section regarding cell towers was used to defend the denial. In December, Homeland Towers, LLC, filed an Article 78 petition against the town of Washington and the Planning Board. An Article 78 petition is a proceeding used to appeal the decision of a New York State or local agency to the New York courts.In their Article 78 petition, Homeland Towers alleges that the town violated the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allows this technology into a community, that its decision to deny the application was not based on substantial evidence and that AT&T was denied the right to service what Homeland Towers maintains is a coverage gap. Since December, the Town Board has met in executive session to discuss its position on the petition. Attorney for the town of Washington is Van de Water & Van de Water. Homeland Towers LLC is represented by Cuddy & Feder.

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