BRUNSWICK — An application to build a 120-foot amateur radio tower off Pennellville Road may not be complete, but it has prompted neighbors to hire an attorney to protest the potential structure.
The topic was addressed at the Nov. 20 Town Council meeting, where Chairwoman Alison Harris noted she had received letters from constituents about the project. The town’s zoning ordinances prohibit the tower from being built in the residential area, and state no structures higher than 40 feet are allowed there.
Julie Erdman, administrative assistant for the Department of Planning and Development, said the department has not received a formal application for the tower from Joseph Fallon, who submitted a separate permit application in October to construct a home in the area.
Fallon, his attorney, and town attorney Kristin Collins met last week to discuss whether a federal law allowing the tower to be built in the area with reasonable accommodation would apply in this instance. If so, the federal law would override the town’s ordinance.
Collins said the status of the application remained unchanged after the meeting, and is still incomplete. Fallon must also submit an application to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.
“The town will review the application under the Code of Ordinances and applicable (Federal Communications Commission) regulations and rulings once it is complete,” Collins said in an email, adding town staff would not comment on the matter until then.
Town Manager John Eldridge echoed that sentiment at the Town Council’s Dec. 4 meeting. Councilor Jane Millett asked why Collins attended the meeting if Fallon’s application is still incomplete.
“The application candidate asked to get together and asked to have us hear some of the information that (he) believed supported the federal preemption, and we said we would meet and listen to them,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge added the federal preemption argument has been made successfully in the past.
Abutters Dino Valaoritis, Clare Johnson, Alicia Heyburn and Lee Silverman have hired attorney Chris Neagle to fight the proposal. In a Nov. 16 letter to the town, Neagle said if the structure is allowed in the proposed area, it could fall and cause damage to nearby homes.
Valaoritis said along with being concerned about the violation of the zoning codes, he and his neighbors think the historic nature of their neighborhood would be tarnished by the tower.
“I think all of us view this tower as being completely out of place in Pennellville; it’s a historic neighborhood,” Valaoritis said, adding that walking in the area feels like a throwback to the 19th century.
“If you all of a sudden saw a 120-foot tower rising up out of that it wouldn’t make much sense,” Valaoritis added.
Attempts to reach Fallon were unsuccessful.
Valaoritis also said the FCC preemption rule says local zoning cannot impose “extreme or excessive prohibition of amateur communications,” but the commission is sympathetic to communities that do not want large industrial towers erected in neighborhoods.
The law states that while local ordinances prohibiting towers in such areas “could constrain amateur communications, we do not view it as failing to provide reasonable accommodation to amateur communications.”
Valaoritis said because Brunswick’s ordinance includes two areas zoned for telecommunications towers, he and his neighbors believe the town already offers reasonable accommodation for amateur radio towers.
The abutter also referenced a Nov. 30 letter from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission to Codes Enforcement Officer Jeffery Hutchinson, regarding the construction of a new home abutting the Pennellville Historic District.
The letter recommends “any additional ground-disturbing activities” in the area, such as excavation for utility lines or septic systems, should be preceded by an archaeological survey, due to the history of the Pennell Shipyard and potential leftover debris in the area.
Valaoritis said even if the proposed height of the tower is reduced, he and the other abutters do not want to see it built.
“We were concerned when we started hearing rumors that it might go from 120 feet to 90 feet, but that’s totally beside the point,” Valaoritis said. “There should not be any tower.”
Edited Dec. 8 to show correct tower location