Topsham cell tower lawsuit settlement could go to February Town Meeting

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TOPSHAM — Voters next month may be asked to approve a lawsuit settlement that will allow construction of a cellular communications tower the town has been trying to block.

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Jan. 6 to send three potential warrant items to a public hearing on Thursday, Jan. 20. After hearing input the board will decide whether to place those items on the Feb. 16 special Town Meeting warrant.

Under the terms of the lawsuit settlement, the town would allow Mariner Tower to install a “monopine” structure – a cell tower camouflaged as a pine tree – at 14 Oak St. The tower would be subject to the specifications and conditions called for in the latest version of Mariner’s application to the Planning Board.

Mariner would have to agree that the tower would never be extended above 75 feet, and the company would reimburse Topsham for $10,000 in attorney fees. Planning Director Rich Roedner said the fees are currently about $14,000.

Town Meeting voters may also see a supplemental warrant item that will be discussed if residents reject the settlement. They would be asked to raise and appropriate up to $150,000 from the town’s fund balance or through borrowing for legal fees.

The Planning Board in June denied Mariner Tower’s application to build a 75-foot monopole tower at 14 Oak St., in Topsham’s Heights neighborhood. The company needed conditional approval for the tower before going through site plan and transmission tower reviews.

Mariner and T-Mobile, which would have been a carrier on the tower, sued the town in July in federal court to obtain the permits the Planning Board denied. The U.S. District Court lawsuit seeks an injunction and a conditional use permit, along with every other permit required for the tower to be built and operated.

T-Mobile withdrew from the case in September. Topsham residents voted 2,358 to 1,933 two months later to ban new cell towers in the town’s Urban Residential Zone. The ban is retroactive to April 1.

The Board of Selectmen also sent items governing building code amendments and allowable locations for addiction treatment facilities to the Jan. 20 public hearing. While the board did not allow public comment last week, Chairman Ronald Riendeau encouraged residents to voice their thoughts at next week’s hearing.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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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.