Revised cell tower language could go to Bath planners

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BATH — The Planning Board may vote next week on whether to recommend that the City Council enact ordinance language regulating wireless communications facilities.

The planners, who also discussed cell tower regulations in July, heard advice last wee from Kevin Breuer, a radio frequency engineer from AT&T.

“He took a look at (the document), and gave us some impressions as to whether it was a good one or a bad one, and whether there were standards in it that would be difficult for a carrier, like Verizon or AT&T … to meet,”  and “whether he thought that there were things there that could lead to legal challenges,”City Planner Jim Upham said.

Upham noted that the city cannot prohibit cell towers, but can develop reasonable rules and regulations. He said he and the Planning Board found Breuer’s comments helpful, and that “he didn’t think that there was a lot in the ordinance that was problematic. He thought that it not only protected the community, but it also allowed for … towers to be constructed.”

One issue Breuer pointed out is a rule that towers could be no taller than 20 feet above the average tree-top line at a specific site. Because the draft language calls for an average, some towers could end up shorter than the taller trees at that site, Upham said.

The proposed installation of a cell tower has been a continuing issue in nearby Topsham. After several lengthy meetings, the town’s Planning Board last June denied Mariner Tower’s request to build a tower in the town’s Heights neighborhood. The company is now suing to overturn that decision; if a trial is held, it could begin later this fall.

Bath has approved a tower on North Bath Road with general site plan review standards. That tower is in the city’s rural low-density residential zone.

The city does not have regulations that govern wireless communications facilities; its ordinance only regulates towers. A tower less than 50 feet tall can be erected in much of the city, but taller towers are only allowed in the low-density residential zone.

Upham said he would amend the draft language based on Tuesday’s discussions, and he hopes to present it to the Planning Board on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.