Brunswick Planning Board says no to radio tower on Pleasant Hill Road

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BRUNSWICK — The Planning Board has derailed a local radio station’s latest attempt to bring back community radio.

First Wave Media, the name of the group that operates WMCE 900 AM, petitioned the board on Tuesday for a zoning change that would allow construction of a 199-foot AM radio tower at 400 Pleasant Hill Road, near the intersection of Casco and Church roads.

In December, the board tabled a decision on First Wave’s request to construct the tower on Old Portland Road. Since then, an attorney for the group said negotiations for a lease there have fallen through, forcing them to look at the Pleasant Hill Road property.

The group was requesting an expansion of the Telecommunications Overlay Zone 2 and an amendment to the zoning that would allow them to construct a 199-foot tower with guy wires. The current TCZ2 language only allows a monopole style tower.

The radio signal would broadcast at 1000 watts during the day, and would cover a 10- to 12-mile radius. At night it would drop to 55 watts and only four miles.

But the board unanimously decided not to set a public hearing on the request, ending its involvement with the project. The applicant can still submit a proposal to the Town Council.

Nine residents of the Pleasant Hill Road area spoke against the tower, citing concerns about its visual impact.

John O’Connell, of Otter Trace, said “this will ruin the scenic view, the sense of place you get in that particular area.”

He also questioned the need for an AM radio station.

“Who listens to AM radio anymore? It’s unnecessary,” he said.

Brook Stoddard, of Bunganuc Road, and Steve Bernake, of Otter Trace, emphasized the value of the Pleasant Hill Road area to the rest of town.

“It’s a truly special area,” Bernake said, arguing that the tower would be detrimental to the entire community if it were constructed.

Residents also questioned whether there is a better location for the tower, but Andy Cashman, the group’s lawyer, explained that First Wave had already spent a year trying to find an appropriate spot. He said there are many limitations imposed by the Federal Communications Commission, including that the site must be at least six acres and be within four miles of the center of Brunswick.

In addition, Cashman said First Wave tried to choose a flat site in a sparsely populated area that did not contain wetlands, power lines, forests or rocky ledges.

But board members balked at the idea of erecting the tower and questioned whether all other options had been exhausted.

“I’m struggling to be convinced that this is the section of town that we want this type of tower on,” Dana Totman said.

Chairman Charles Frizzle said “the town of Brunswick has invested an awful lot in the West Brunswick area in terms of the visual appeal, and I just can’t reconcile an antenna in this location for that reason alone.”

First Wave’s representatives were disappointed, but undeterred, after the decision.

“We’re going to have to consider what other options we have,” said Bob Perry, the engineer for WMCE.

WMCE’s owner, Jim Bleikamp, said he had not anticipated so many neighbors would have objections to the tower location.

“We were not aware of opposition to this extent, but we ultimately respect the concerns of the neighbors,” he said.

While First Wave searches for an appropriate location, it is trying to maintain its FCC license by going on air twice a week via another station’s tower. But Perry said this is only a temporary solution, because it forces WJTO off the air to allow WCME to broadcast.

He said it’s hard to know how long they have to build a tower until the FCC pulls their license.

Cashman said he had faith that Brunswick residents support the idea of a local radio station, if not the tower location that was proposed.

“People respond to the idea of it being locally owned and operated,” he said. “The problem is not with the idea, but with the location.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter:@guerinemily.

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Public hearing ahead on Longfellow School rezoning

BRUNSWICK — The proposed rezoning of the Longfellow School is heading to a public hearing after several meetings between neighbors, Bowdoin College and town officials, and two Planning Board workshops.

But there is still some disagreement over housing density on the site.

The proposed College Use 7 zone currently allows 10 units per acre, down from the 12 included in an earlier proposal. But Longfellow Avenue resident Connie Lundquist said she was still concerned about the impact of that density on the neighborhood, and encouraged the Planning Board to reduce it even further.

In addition to non-student housing, CU7 would allow several college uses, including a theater, recreation facility, offices, art studios, greenhouse and religious center, among others.

Complicating the rezoning discussion is the fact that the college has not committed to a particular future use of the building.

When asked on Tuesday about what is planned for the Longfellow School, Caty Longley, Bowdoin’s senior vice president for finance and administration and treasurer, introduced three possible uses: visual arts space, administrative offices, and faculty housing.

But she added that the college hasn’t decided whether it will tear down the school or renovate it, and promised to work with neighbors before submitting a building plan.

The public hearing on the Longfellow rezoning is scheduled for July 26 at 7 p.m.

— Emily Guerin

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