AMHERST, NY – Residents of neighborhoods near Hopkins and Maple Roads are marshaling forces in opposition to a cell phone tower, which is proposed to be erected behind the Faith United Church of Christ.
Verizon, in its application, says it seeks to construct the tower to eliminate a so called “dead zone” in the area, which is a term used for areas which experience difficult, or less than exemplary cell phone service.
Verizon seeks to build an 89 foot tall cell phone tower. However, it needs the town to grant a variance because the town code limits the height of such towers to 65 feet, and dictates they be no closer than 500 feet from the to a town structure.
"There is a home directly behind the church that's 123 feet away,” said Mitch Rubin, who is among those opposed to the tower. “Verizon is looking to go from a 500 foot variance to below 100 feet. That’s simply not right, and you have dozens of homes within the 500 foot variance," Rubin said.
“We have codes in place for a reason,” said Chris Chapman of Ponderosa Drive, who is also opposed to the proposed tower. "Some of those codes are for aesthetics and take into account whether or not something fits within a neighborhood.”
The church, with fewer than 100 parishioners, would stand to gain monetarily from leasing its property to Verizon for the tower, which the company plans to build within a bell tower which it would erect adjacent to the church.
In this way, the components would be concealed.
This still doesn't appease those opposed, though, who note even if it’s dressed up like a bell tower, it would still look odd because it would be a ten story bell tower next to a two story church.
“Verizon is trying to put lipstick on a pig,” remarked Dennis C. Vacco, and attorney hired by the residents group opposing the tower.
But Vacco concedes it could be a bit of an uphill battle to stop it.
For one thing, he notes the town’s Planning Board has already issued an opinion that the tower would have no negative impact on surrounding neighbors. For another, he notes that town codes in these cases often butt up against federal law.
“There's no question the Federal Communications Act does favor the development of these towers to broaden the base of receptivity," Vacco told WGRZ TV.
Add to that, the pressure being put on by Senators like Charles Schumer, for wireless companies to eliminate dead zones — which the companies say can only be done by erecting more towers.
Then, there is a more recent case where, after Verizon was denied the variance it sought to erect a tower behind another Amherst church on North French Road, it took the town of Amherst to court, and won. This allowed Verizon to move forward with its application which is now pending.
“Here we think the circumstances are much different," said Vacco, noting that the other church property was located in a far less densely populated area. “At the end of the day we just don’t think Verizon has exhausted other, more viable sites."
In its application, Verizon said it sought to primarily improve coverage around Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, which is in the center of the coverage map it also submitted. The map included a circular ring, with the hospital near the center.
The location of the tower as proposed though, is in a spot as far away as you can get from that, along the edge of the coverage ring.
“If the idea is to better serve the area centered on the hospital, then the tower should be located closer to there,” said Vacco.
Meanwhile, Rubin and Chapman also note that if the tower were to be approved, it would be the first such tower erected in the town to be located in the heart of an exclusively residential neighborhood.
The town’s Zoning Board of Appeals is next scheduled to take up the matter in November.