By Tracy F. Seelye, Express editor
WHITMAN — The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) Monday, Aug. 11 continued a hearing on an AT&T application to install a self-supporting, 150-foot tall monopole with cell anntena at 672 Bedford Street near Churchill Street and Diane Terrace.
The project includes spaces lower on the pole for three future antenna colocations and would be located in a 40-by-40-foot compound behind the school bus depot.
Continuance will allow the company to literally float a trial balloon in the area between 8 a.m. and noon on Saturday, Sept. 6 — with a rain date of Saturday, Sept. 13 — before the project comes back before the ZBA at 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 15 for more discussion and a decision.
The required balloon test, in which a large balloon is floated 150 feet in the air is desined to give an idea of what the height of the monopole looks like, ZBA Chairman John Goldrosen explained. Residents of the Diane Terrace area in attendance indicated they will be keeping an eye to the sky on test day.
The application seeks a laundry list of special permits and variances to local zoning bylaws for the project on land leased from TMZ Realty Corp. II of Hanson, and leans on state and federal telecommunications laws.
“AT&T is currently developing its wireless communications network, bringing 3G and 4G service which will provide voice and data services on the same platform,” said Brian Grossman, a lawyer with the firm of Anderson and Kreiger of Cambridge, representing AT&T. “Customers are demanding to use those [data-centric] services, whether it’s Facebook, streaming media, Netflix, HBO GO, to use their dish network options … this has put a strain on the network and also means the useage patterns have changed. It’s no longer enough to provide coverage on or near roadways — people expect and want to use their devices when and where they want to use them.”
Grossman was accompanied by Site Asquisition Specialist Elisabeth Rutkowski of the firm TRM in Foxboro, but the project engineer was unable to attend due to a personal emergency.
The Board of Health has expressed no objections to the project, but the Planning Board has recommended denial as the “applicant does not show compliance” with a bylaw limiting space between towers to one mile. The proposal has yet to go before the Conservation Commission.
The ZBA’s concerns expressed Monday included security measures, effect on drainage, noise, impact of weather on tower integrity, safety of the tower’s height, status of property tax payments by the site owners, environmental impact, cost to remove it in the future and any remaining gaps in coverage.
“It looks like a nice, wooded area but I guarantee you will have two-legged critters visiting you and challenging to try to get into that site,” said ZBA member Wayne Andrews said of site security.
Several people at the meeting — both abutting residents and board members — agreed with Building Inspector Robert Curran’s suggestion that AT&T consider colocating its antennae on the tower behind the Police Station in an effort to reduce the height of the proposed monopole.
“There’s no colocations right now [at the station’s tower],” Curran said. “The question is if you could consider colocating on that and then maybe building a 100-foot-tower here.” He added the 150-foot tower there was approved so other firms could colocate.
Rutkowski indicated the company is not in a position to do so and build a tower at this time.
“It may be that if there were one on the Police Station, does that affect the ideal location for a second one?” Goldrosen said.
The representatives of AT&T pledged to have answers to the board’s questions and suggestions when they return on Sept. 15, and indicated they would amend fence and security measures as the board might request.
Michael Hayes, 18 Diane Terrace also asked if a noise test had been conducted of a generator at the site, which will run for about 45 minutes on a one-day-per-week basis and continually during a power emergency. Company representatives said the sound level would be about 42 decibeles and 375 feet from the nearest residence.
“The typical ambient nighttime noise level in quiet suburban areas is approximately 40 dba,” Grossman said.
Stephen Frech of 30 Diane Terrace expressed concern over how plans for construction of a support building would affect a drainage basin on the property as well as the effect of snowpack on the monopole tower.
Grossman explained the tower is desined to bend, or kink, but not fall over at the base as a result of severe weather. He added it does not burden public safety services — it will be visited by maintenance crew once a month — and produces no sewage or trash.
Four other locations were considered by AT&T and rejected for service coverage limitations inherent in the location and available height of structures available:
• A colocation in the steeple of the First Congregational Church on 519 Washington St.;
• The bell tower of Holy Ghost Church on School Street;
• The National Grid stanchion at 1005 Temple St.;
• The smokestack of the Bostonian Shoe Lofts at 7 Marble St.
A monopole siting at the Whitman Middle School was rejected due to the complexities of using public property, Grossman said.