Scarborough planners: Cell tower zoning changes need work

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SCARBOROUGH — Zoning changes that would allow more cellular phone towers will need further discussion after members of the public raised concerns about health risks in a Planning Board meeting Monday.

The board also gave the green light to proposed additional parking for the Eastern Trail on the Old Eastern Road.

Town Planner Dan Bacon and the ordinance committee have been working for the past year to address the issue of poor cellular service around town.

After analyzing coverage gaps, Bacon suggested amending the town’s zoning to permit new wireless towers in more zones than just industrial, specifically in rural areas west of the Maine Turnpike and undeveloped lands near the ocean.

The changes would also permit taller towers, up to 150 feet rather than 100 feet, and allow for smaller, “stealth” or disguised wireless facilities mounted on buildings.

Councilors gave preliminary approval to those zoning changes in their meeting June 4.

But board members and residents who spoke at the meeting Monday were concerned the changes will not limit the number of towers, or prevent cell towers from being built near schools or densely populated parts of town.

Elisa Boxer-Cook of Minuteman Drive said her family bought their house because it was a half mile from a tower, a distance she found in her research was safe from possible microwave radiation coming from towers.

“I strongly encourage you to take your time and look at all the research,” she told the board.

Others worried towers might interrupt scenic coastal views.

“I just can’t imagine driving down Spurwink Road with the ocean on one side, and the marsh on the other, and a cell tower,” board member Susan Auglis said.

Auglis lives on Black Point Road, and said she has poor cell phone service at her house. 

“But I don’t live in Scarborough for the best cell coverage,” she reasoned. “I live here because it’s still a fairly rural community.”

Bacon 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. But several board members still had doubts.

The board ended its discussion with a recommendation that the Town Council send the zoning changes back to the ordinance committee for further consideration. 

The Town Council will consider the recommendation July 16. 

Trail parking

The Planning Board also gave the go-ahead for the town to move forward with additional parking at the Eastern Trail area nearest Black Point Road.

Although the popular bike and pedestrian route could probably use 20 or 30 spots, Bacon said, the area’s resource protection zoning would only permit a proposed 10-space lot, in addition to existing parking along the side of Old Eastern Road.

The gravel lot would occupy an existing paved area owned by the sanitary district, which operated a sewer pumping station there that closed four years ago.

The Public Works Department will likely construct the lot in late summer or early fall. 

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.