Topsham planners to continue cell tower review

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TOPSHAM — A controversial proposal to build a cellular communications tower in the Heights neighborhood returns to the Planning Board Tuesday, June 29.

The request from developer Mariner Tower, tabled last month for the third time in nearly a year, has spurred a petition among Heights residents who oppose the 14 Oak St. project. The petition calls for cell towers to be barred from Topsham’s Residential 1 zone, retroactive to April 1. Bridge Street resident Phin White, one of the petitioners, has said that if the petition is approved, any permit application that is pending with or issued by the Planning Board on or following that date which does not conform would be null and void.

Cell towers are currently allowed in the Residential 1 zone as a conditional use. Mariner Chief Development Officer Chris Ciolfi told the board last month that he thinks the plan meets the town’s conditional use standards. Mariner has proposed a 75-foot tower for use by T-Mobile.

White said Wednesday that the petitioners had obtained 573 signatures, more than the necessary 434 and close to their goal of 600. He said the signatures will likely be submitted to the town the day of the Planning Board meeting.

According to a joint statement White sent on behalf of the petitioners, residents opposed to a cell tower in the Heights neighborhood circulated the petition “because our town has no specific cell tower ordinance. Topsham relies upon a broad ‘Transmission Tower’ ordinance and under the present rules, cell phone towers can be erected wherever a speculator wants. We feel this is an outdated ideal and our goal is to amend the zoning.”

The statement says it is inappropriate to place cell towers in dense residential Topsham neighborhoods, and that the petitioners’ actions “support Topsham’s Comprehensive Plan, which seeks to protect and preserve the character and qualities of these neighborhoods from incompatible development. Ultimately the Topsham voters will decide on this important issue and we hope to have their support.”

The Planning Board tabled the matter May 4 after learning that day of revisions to the plan proposed by the applicant. Those changes, intended to address concerns expressed at earlier meetings, called for the tower compound on the lot to be reduced from 4,900 square feet to 2,800 square feet, pulling both the compound and its entry road back from homes on Maple Street and minimizing the amount of area to be cleared.

Still, Planning Board members said they were uncomfortable reviewing a plan that had just been revised.

Ciolfi has noted that he seeks neither variances nor special compensation and that his proposal meets all setback requirements. He has pointed out that with cellular communications continuing to grow in usage and evolve in nature, service providers need stronger signals to reach inside buildings and compete with land lines.

Tuesday’s meeting begins at the Topsham Municipal Building at 7 p.m.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or [email protected].

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.