Petition urges Cape Elizabeth to allow cell tower

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CAPE ELIZABETH — While the town and Verizon Wireless await a court ruling in their dispute over the company’s desire to put a cell tower in Shore Acres, residents have started a petition in support of the project.

Teddy Stoecklein in October created the online petition in support of Verizon placing a tower on an existing, unused water tower at 11 Avon Road. As of Wednesday it had 157 signatures.

“(The cell tower) would have helped everyone and the town denied that,” Stoecklein said.

Verizon’s plan is opposed by some neighbors, who object to the tower’s appearance and claim it will increase noise and traffic. In May, Verizon said federal law allows it to place an antenna on top of the 69-year-old water tower, regardless of the local zoning ordinances or site plan requirements.

Code Enforcement Officer Ben McDougal denied Verizon’s application. In June, Verizon requested reconsideration, but was denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals. Verizon sued the town in July in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Stoecklein said many residents in Cape Elizabeth have poor cell-phone reception and that the Shore Acres tower would help alleviate the problem. He said poor cell service can be a safety issue.

“In an era where most people depend on cell phones as their primary device for communication, not having cell phone coverage in Cape Elizabeth is not just a nuisance; it’s unsafe,” the first line of the petition reads.

One person who signed the petition left a comment saying the issue is “frustrating at best and dangerous at worst.”

Someone else wrote about a contractor working in Cape Elizabeth whose son was involved in an accident and taken to a hospital emergency room. Because the contractor had no cell service in the neighborhood, he didn’t find out about his son’s accident until he left the area to go on a lunch break.

Others said having bad cell service makes it difficult to work from home. Some non-Cape Elizabeth residents said that because of poor cell reception, they don’t stay for extended visits with their families who live in town.

It was also suggested that bad cell service could make fewer people want to visit or vacation in Cape Elizabeth. Someone also wrote that the issue could “adversely affect property values.”

The town, represented in the lawsuit by John J. Wall III of Monaghan Leahy in Portland, in September requested a motion for partial dismissal of Verizon’s case on the grounds that the company didn’t appeal in Maine Superior Court, as required by state law.

At issue is Verizon’s claim that the water tower at 11 Avon Road meets the town zoning ordinance’s definition of an “Alternate Tower Structure,” and should be permitted. Cape Elizabeth argues the company has now run out of time to make that argument in state court, so it should be dismissed.

Wall on Tuesday said the court has yet to make a ruling on the town’s motion. It also has yet to rule on whether a few Cape Elizabeth residents will be able to intervene in the case.

Three Avon Road residents – Priscilla Armstrong, Pavel Darling, and Brad Kauffman – filed papers asking to be involved in the case because of their proximity to the tower. Verizon argued that the intervenors’ interests are already represented by the town.

Stoecklein said he assumes the town hasn’t heard from anyone in favor of building the cell tower.

“Your signature on this petition will be, believe it or not, the first time the Town Council will be hearing from those in favor of a cell tower,” the petition reads.

Town Manager Mike McGovern on Wednesday said he hadn’t read the petition and was “reluctant to comment on it.” He said he would have preferred that citizens make a proposal, rather than organize a petition.

“If people want to sign a petition that encourages Verizon suing us, that’s fine, but I don’t think that’s the route to go,” McGovern said.

He said he doesn’t believe most people who signed the petition understand the process Verizon has gone through in its attempt to construct the cell tower.

“I was looking forward to a dialogue with Verizon, but instead they sued,” McGovern said.

Stoecklein said he wants to bring the petition to the next council meeting, scheduled for Dec. 8.

“I want to tell them that the number of people in favor of (the tower) far outweighs the number of people against it, and that should be enough for them to reconsider, or at least accommodate Verizon in some other way,” he said.

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

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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.