Scarborough puts brakes on zoning to allow cellular towers near homes
SCARBOROUGH — In response to concerns from residents, new zoning to facilitate cellular phone towers will go through additional revisions before the Town Council takes final action, ordinance committee members said in their meeting Wednesday.
Although councilors will take final action on the proposed zoning changes on Wednesday, Aug. 20, Councilor Kate St. Clair, chairwoman of the ordinance committee, said the council will table the item until next month.
At the request of council Chairman Richard Sullivan, the committee also moved to arrange a joint workshop Sept. 3 at 6 p.m. with the Town Council and Planning Board to "relieve a lot of frustration of the public and bring this to a better conclusion."
The town has a history of poor wireless coverage, particularly in areas along the coast and west of the Maine Turnpike.
Town Planner Dan Bacon and the ordinance committee has been working for the past year to address the issue, and after a third party analyzed town coverage gaps, Bacon suggested amending the town's zoning to permit new wireless towers in more than just industrial zones.
The changes would also permit taller towers, up to 150 feet rather than 100 feet, and allow for smaller, "stealth" towers, or disguised wireless facilities mounted on buildings.
Bacon has said a study showed seven to nine new towers in the community would provide "very good service" to areas currently lacking coverage. That number would not necessarily be approved by the town, since the board and council would consider each tower on a case-by-case basis.
Many residents oppose the zoning because it would allow towers in rural farming and residential zones. They also believe the towers would disrupt scenic views and possibly be a health hazard. Elisa Boxer-Cook, of Minuteman Drive, said at the last Town Council meeting that she collected 100 signatures on a petition against the proposal.
Councilors gave preliminary approval to those zoning changes in their meeting June 4, but since then, both the Planning Board and Town Council have heeded concerns from residents that the ordinance is too broad and allows towers in zones that are too densely populated.
At the meeting Wednesday, Bacon suggested additional changes to his initial proposal, including requiring setbacks of at least four acres for towers in residential areas, and allowing lesser setbacks in industrial zones to encourage development away from homeowners.
Committee members did not discuss Bacon's most recent recommendations, in favor of taking the rest of the month to better scrutinize their options.
Councilor James Benedict indicated he does not want to see any towers near the marsh, but he also did not want to see the town in a lawsuit. Verizon Wireless recently sued Cape Elizabeth after the town's Zoning Board of Appeals refused to reconsider its denial of Verizon's request to construct a cell tower in a residential, coastal neighborhood.
Despite objecting to cell towers in residential areas, most opponents to the zoning agreed cell phone service needs improvement. And, as Town Manager Tom Hall explained, the point of changing the town's zoning to accommodate cell towers is to address poor service in town, especially in residential areas.
"The fact is, for us to reasonably meet that policy objective, the (Rural Residence and Farming) zone is smack dab in the middle of that conversation," Hall said.