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Verizon reportedly drops plans for Grace Farms cell tower

Verizon Wireless has withdrawn its plans for the construction of a cell phone tower at 82 Puddin Hill Road, on the northern reaches of town, according to an email from Grace Farms Foundation president Sharon Prince to the surrounding neighbors.

“During their two years of planning they were unaware of the development plans for Grace Farms,” the email from Prince, sent just after midnight Friday, reads. “After senior management learned of the project, they expressed their appreciation for what we are doing for the community and decided to provide their support by pulling their application. Simply unprecedented! We are all very thankful for this gesture and will follow through on our commitment to help them find a suitable site that meets the needs of the town without the damaging impact of the Puddin’ Hill site.”

The Grace Farms Foundation spent nearly $40 million acquiring its substantial property, and will spend about another $50 million to $60 million to bring a world-class building, The River, designed by the Pritzker Prize winning architectural firm SANAA, to a property that’s all about maintaining a natural, peaceful environment.

Verizon had planned to construct a 126-foot cell phone tower with a wind turbine affixed to the top at the behest of the owner of the property, which abuts the Grace Farms property.

As of midday Friday, First Selectman Rob Mallozzi had not been informed of the agreement between Grace Farms Foundation and Verizon.

“I’m kind of speechless about it,” Mallozzi said, adding that the project for better service is not necessarily back to square one. “[Puddin Hill Road] was one part of the solution. That wasn’t a town solution necessarily, that was a Verizon solution, which we thought fit in well. We’re in the business of trying to locate sites. Some of these properties will come and go for various reasons. We have to continue to be proactive and search out alternatives.”

The need for cell service remains. At a Jan. 9 public meeting on the topic of cell phone tower siting, a representative from Verizon Wireless estimated that cell coverage in town stands at only about 30 percent. In December, the town surveyed more than 600 residents; 91 percent of those surveyed favor erecting more cellphone towers.

At the same meeting, Verizon representative, Kenneth Baldwin said Verizon would be eager to find an alternate place, but it had not been able to locate one that is suitable and works environmentally where the owners are willing to allow a tower on their property.

“We’ve been looking at alternatives for three years,” he said at that meeting. “Boy, we’ve been looking for a long time. We’ve been working this one hard.”

Neighbor, and Grace Farms Foundation’s biggest foe in zoning meetings Sanjit Shah, was upbeat about the news.

“I want everything: better cell reception without the tower!” he said in an email Friday morning. “Seriously, I’m glad the tower won’t be near my neighbors, Dan and Karen Cooper, and I’m glad there won’t be a wind turbine, but the presence of a cell tower would not have been nearly as disturbing as other developments in the neighborhood most certainly will be.”