Residents approved a moratorium on wind power facility development, with much milder debate than they had on the cell tower issue. Andy Marble, code enforcement officer, said the 180-day moratorium would give the town time to craft an ordinance to regulate wind power, something it does not have now. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Marble said. “With the Global Towers lawsuit, we can see it is pretty easy to rack up legal charges. This is a great way to make sure we don’t end up with that again with commercial wind farms.”
ROME – Residents approved a new ordinance regulating cellphone towers and agreed to appropriate up to $50,000, on top of some $42,000 already spent, to defend the town in a lawsuit filed by a company that wants to put up a 190-foot cell tower, which a former Planning Board chairman said would be right in the middle of town and a blight on the area’s skyline.
Voters overwhelmingly passed both tower-related warrant articles and agreed to a 180-day moratorium on the development of any wind tower energy facilities in town, in an approximately four-and-a-half hour Rome Town Meeting.
The town thus has $50,000 to spend on costs related to its ongoing legal fight with a company that sought, but was denied, Planning Board permission for a new tower off Route 27.
Global Tower Assets LLC, of Boca Raton, Fla., and Northeast Wireless Networks LLC, of Winchester, Mass., have sued the town and the Planning Board in federal court, claiming they were victims of discrimination and should have been allowed to provide personal wireless services, that the application process was unreasonably long – more than a year – and that any written decision lacked substantial evidence in the written record. The companies had hoped to install a 190-foot tower on The Mountain. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit on July 31, 2014, saying that the town had yet to reach a final decision, and upheld that in an order issued Dec. 30, 2014.
Those decisions have been appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Denny Phillips, a former Planning Board chairman who served during the 15-month proceeding about the cell tower request, bristled at a suggestion from Malcolm Charles, third selectmen, that one of the tower proposal’s biggest problems was the type of tower – that the company originally wanted a more visible, cheaper, steel lattice-type tower, while planners wanted a less visible but more expensive mono-pole type. Charles said he and the town’s attorney had discussions with Global Tower officials, including, he said, seven lawyers representing the company, last week in Boston; and the company had expressed openness to considering a mono-pole and negotiating a settlement to the court case.
“That part of it is completely untrue. The configuration of the tower was not the issue,” Phillips said. “The tower is going to be 190 feet no matter what it looks like. That’s the issue. It will be right in the middle of town, visible from all the lakes. This tower is going to be a blight on the skyline no matter where you see it from. It’s going to be right there, front and center, right in your face. You’ve got to defend those ordinances, or you shouldn’t even have them.”
Charles said he and the town’s attorney in the federal court proceeding met last week for mediation sessions with a judge and also met with Global Tower officials, with the judge acting as mediator. He said the attorney told him he felt strongly the town would prevail, but the judge warned the lawsuit is in the early stages and could take five or six years and cost the town as much as $300,000 to fight.
Some residents suggested Charles had overstepped his bounds by having discussions with Global Tower.
“I don’t think our business in Rome should be conducted this way,” resident Maggie Shannon said, drawing emphatic applause.
Charles and Kelly Archer, first selectwoman, both indicated yes when the moderator asked them if they’d gotten the message from residents they needed to be collaborative and open when representing the town on the cell tower issue.
Resident Lincoln Nye said the town needs improved cellphone service and said the Planning Board “is overwhelmed with (Belgrade Lakes Association) members with their own agendas, not what the people of town want.”
The 37-page proposed “Personal Wireless Services Facilities Ordinance,” approved by a vast majority of the approximately 80 residents at the meeting, repeals one that has been in effect since 2002.
The old ordinance, according to Dick Greenan, Planning Board chairman, needed to be updated. Among the changes in the new ordinance is an increase in the application fee, from $50 to $1,500.
The ordinance says it is designed “to balance the interests of the residents of Rome, wireless communications providers and wireless communication customers in the siting of wireless communications facilities within the town.”
The town had imposed a moratorium on accepting applications for cell tower construction last October.
The proposed ordinance encourages co-location and requires an initial deposit of $8,500 to fund expert review for the town and indicates the costs could go higher.
The maximum height is set at 199 feet, with some exceptions. If the site is within “a scenic area or scenic viewshed” – described as areas visible from Blueberry Hill, French Mountain, The Mountain and Mount Phillip – the applicant is to take steps to preserve the scenic quality.
Residents approved a moratorium on wind power facility development, with much milder debate than they had on the cell tower issue.
Andy Marble, code enforcement officer, said the 180-day moratorium would give the town time to craft an ordinance to regulate wind power, something it does not have now.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Marble said. “With the Global Towers lawsuit, we can see it is pretty easy to rack up legal charges. This is a great way to make sure we don’t end up with that again with commercial wind farms.”
The proposed municipal budget is smaller than last year’s, officials said. The current town budget is about $1.9 million, with $1.36 million of that supporting the schools.
Residents approved every spending item put before them, but not without making changes in a few cases.
Changes included removing money proposed for raises to each of the three selectmen. Officials had proposed increasing the first selectman’s pay by $1,000, to $6,500; the second selectman’s by $750, to $5,250; and the third’s by $500, to $4,500.
Budget Committee members said selectmen hadn’t had a raise since 2003.
Richard LaBelle said a regional analysis should have been done first to see what selectmen make in other area towns. He said the raises amounted to a 20 percent increase in selectmen’s salaries, which, he said, was too much.
He was in a unique position to argue against raises for selectmen Saturday, having just been elected in secret-ballot elections Friday, as the second selectman.
“I’ve been voted in as second selectman and I don’t think I deserve this,” he said. “I’m guessing most people in Rome didn’t get 20 percent raises this year, and neither should I.”
LaBelle received 159 votes to win the seat, topping incumbent Lesley Real’s 101 votes and Debbie DiPietro Smith’s 31 votes.
Also winning town positions in contested races in Friday’s elections were: Carroll Bubar, who received 195 votes for road commissioner to Larry DiPietro’s 92; Lois Stratton, who won the town clerk’s position by receiving 183 votes to Abby DiPietro’s 88; and Tammy Lyons, incumbent tax collector and treasurer, who received 185 votes for treasurer and 187 votes for tax collector, defeating Shannon Holt, who received 108 votes for treasurer and 106 for tax collector.
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