Thursday, 06 July 2017 14:23

Cell Service Upgrade?

MILTON — In a bustling part of town, within sight of the Saratoga County airport, many cellphone users still find that reception can be spotty.

That may change later this year if town officials approve a proposal by Verizon Wireless to put up a new communications tower in a wooded area off Rowland Street.

In late May, David Brennan, a partner in the Albany law firm Young Sommer, appeared before the Milton Zoning Board of Appeals on behalf of a partnership that was formed between Verizon Wireless and a Florida company called Tarpon Towers.

Brennan told the zoning board that Verizon engineers regularly aim to find places where cellular service can be improved. He said engineers found a “very large area” east of the airport where there is a “trickle of coverage.”

The approximately 150-foot communications tower would be built on land owned by the Village of Ballston Spa. For decades, that property has been utilized as a water supply for village residents; it is already home to a 55-foot-tall water tower.

That part of Milton, close to the town complex, is currently experiencing steady development of businesses and neighborhoods.

Zoning Board Chairwoman Kimberly Weaver could not be reached for comment.

The zoning board agenda for the May 25 meeting listed the matter simply as a “use variance review.”

Milton Building Inspector Wayne Howe explained that a town variance is required—even if Ballston Spa owns the land—because the site has “R-1” residential zoning.

The Rowlands Hollow development of single-family homes is close to the site.

Both the zoning and planning boards would need to approve a zoning change to allow the proposed cell tower after scheduling public hearings, Howe added.

“I like it to have this extensive review,” he said. “It can be a negative impact to the neighborhood.”

Brennan, after acknowledging that some local residents may be opposed to a new tower, said it would be “not very visible at all.” He added that company officials recently flew a balloon to verify its actual height.

“If we could spend a million dollars elsewhere and not do it here, we would find a different place,” he said.

Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano confirmed that village officials were first approached about building the tower more than a year ago. He said it would be adequately fenced in with access restricted only to Verizon Wireless and village officials.

Romano explained that the village could derive more than $20,000 in annual revenue from the land-use fees paid by Verizon Wireless.

According to industry experts, other companies could contract with Verizon Wireless to utilize the same tower for additional cellular service in the area.

Brennan said that, in 2017, improving reception anywhere makes sense when nearly 50 percent of homes use only cell phones, having “cut the cord” to land lines. 

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