Disputed Cape Elizabeth cell tower gets final approval

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CAPE ELIZABETH — A two-year battle came to an end Monday when the Planning Board approved an application from Verizon Wireless to place wireless communication antennas on a Shore Acres water tower.

The board also tabled discussion on a proposed Hill Way residential and commercial development.

Verizon’s application had been tabled from a meeting in March because the board wanted more information.

Lawyer Scott Anderson of the Portland firm Verrill Dana submitted the application for Verizon, the second for the project, on Jan. 29. The first was opposed by some neighbors and town officials, and ultimately led to a federal lawsuit won by Verizon.

The dispute began after Code Enforcement Officer Ben McDougal in early 2014 denied Verizon’s application to place an antenna on the 70-year-old tower at 11 Avon Road, which is owned by the Portland Water District and has been dry for a decade. Verizon sought reconsideration in June 2014, but was denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals. Verizon sued the town in July 2014 in U.S. District Court in Portland; the court ruled in the company’s favor Sept. 30, 2015.

The Planning Board voted 3-2  Feb. 22 to accept the completed new application.

Anderson on Monday said changes have been made to the lead remediation plan for the tower: after the tank is repainted, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection will evaluate the soil around the tank.

A wooden fence will be placed around an equipment cabinet to buffer noise, and the height of the fence surrounding the tank will be increased to 8 feet. Anderson said Verizon will also try to minimize the appearance of the three antennas by painting them the same color as the tank.

Half a dozen people spoke against the project, most of them saying they want the antennas completely concealed. 

On Tuesday, Town Planner Maureen O’Meara said she will send an approval letter to Verizon with conditions that will include bringing the fence up to 8 feet. Once the conditions are met, Verizon can start painting and then conduct the lead tests, the results of which must be sent to both the town and DEP.

Once those steps are complete, the antennas can be placed on the tower. O’Meara said she’s unsure when the work will be completed.

Hill Way proposal

The proposal for a medical office building and apartment complex at 12 Hill Way was tabled until May 17.

The board in March said the proposal from the owners of Cape Chiropractic and Acupuncture was complete. But a three-hour site plan review and public hearing on Monday left members with many questions.

Amber and Zev Myerowitz, owners of the business at 2 Davis Point Lane, want to construct two, three-story buildings on Hill Way, with a connector between them. Each building – one nearly 3,800 square feet and the other more than 2,400 square feet – will have their medical business on the first floor and apartments above.

The project proposes 10 townhouse-style apartments, with six in one building and four in the other.

Planning Board members decided they need more information, specifically surrounding the design of the property, before approving the project. The board said it wants to know more about the plantings proposed at the site, the exterior lights, the window trim, and a sign for the medical office.

More than 20 people spoke at the meeting, with half in favor of the proposal and half opposed. Those who were against the plan said the building would be too large and would create too much traffic. Many of them live near the proposal and wore stickers that said “Save Hill Way.”

One woman said she is “bewildered by the scope of the project” while another said the buildings would be “too massive and overwhelming.”

Those in favor of the plan spoke to the Myerowitzs’ character and said they are good business owners and landlords. Some said the proposal would be good for the economy and would provide affordable housing options. One man said the proposal provides an “opportunity to have a rural town with a vibrant downtown.”

Board Chairman Peter Curry said it’s hard to balance the various viewpoints.

“It’s not a black-and-white thing,” he said. “Nobody’s interests are being overlooked.”

Board member Jonathan Sahrbeck said he wants a balance, but residents who live near Hill Way need to respect private property rights.

The Myerowitzes bought the 2.1-acre property in 2014 for $915,000. They have subdivided it into three lots, and the project is being planned for the largest lot. A farmhouse sits on one of the other lots; the other is undeveloped.

The project falls within the town center zone and meets town center zoning ordinance and design standards. The project also fulfills the Town Council’s goal of improving the area around Hill Way, and the Town Center Planning Committee’s desire to have a mixed-use building in the town center.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

An application by Verizon Wireless to place antennas on this Avon Road water tower was approved Monday by the Cape Elizabeth Planning Board.

A rendering of the view from Ocean House Road of a building proposed for 12 Hill Way in Cape Elizabeth.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.