About 20 concerned residents were present for the Westwood Planning Board’s public hearing Tuesday night regarding a proposed wireless communication facility application at .
While the number of residents present was down from the last two meetings about the subject, the theme of anger and concern remained.
“That balloon was dominating the horizon and I feel that the tower will, as well,” said resident Margerie Dunn, who viewed a balloon test that was held at the site in March.
The matter has been a hot-button issue for several months, with a number of residents through a comment stream on a Westwood Patch article that ran in early February. Concerns were at a Planning Board meeting in March, and officials at Temple Beth David released a addressing the matter.
The applicants for the project include SBA Towers II, LLC; T-Mobile Northeast, LLC; and MetroPCS Massachusetts, LLC. Ricardo Souza, who represented the applicants, explained at the last meeting that they are seeking to construct a 99-foot, 6-inch flagpole style monopole that would contain three T-Mobile panel antennas at the centerline height of 95 feet, 3 inches. MetroPCS would have an antenna at 86 feet, 9 inches.
Souza has maintained throughout the process that the main goal in creating the tower is to fill in coverage gaps in an area that he said the cellular companies have identified as areas of little to no coverage. At each meeting, he has also brought several experts with him who told the board and the public that there are no health risks and no evidence of property value diminishing.
However, the town of Westwood hired David Maxson of Isotrope Wireless to review the application. Upon his review, Maxson found several discrepancies and said that there could be alternatives to putting the site at Temple Beth David, where residents are concerned that it could be a safety risk as well as an eye sore. He also said that by lowering the poll 10 to 20 feet, he didn’t see it affecting coverage.
“In my opinion, if you knock of 10 or 20 feet, you are still a reasonable height above the trees,” Maxson said.
He later added, “I got the impression that the applicants would be perfectly fine if they could build a tower on say, the parcel.”
One potential alternative, according to Maxson’s review, is to use a water tank just across the town line into Norwood. However, Souza and his team of experts said that Norwood’s Board of Selectmen has shot down this idea before, and that they would allow only municipal structures to be built there.
Maxson also said that there is already an existing structure at Bellevue Avenue with Sprint and AT&T. He noted that this would be an opportunity to build on an existing structure.
Maxson noted that his computer model has a nearly perfect rate with small room for error. He said that he asked for a drive test and data map to verify the model’s accuracy. Also, Maxson’s review included that coverage in the areas presented are choppy, but that one could, for the most part, obtain some service. He said that this brings into question about the need to fill a coverage gap.
Another part of Maxson’s report showed that the tower may be close enough to the Norfolk airport that there may be some sort of lighting on it. While this was denied by Souza, it was ill-received by residents.
“It would have a big effect if there was a 100-foot beacon of light,” said Dunn.
Souza said he felt that the review was inadequate, as a drive test and maps were submitted on April 29 and not included in the written report.
“These carriers would not take time and resources to propose this if not for a gap in coverage,” said Souza. “We are trying to have better, more reliable coverage for our customers.”
Souza and his experts, including Sameer Parakkavetty, a radio frequency engineer of 12 years working for MetroPCS, also felt that Maxson’s plots were not accurate and “overly predictive.”
In regards to alternative spots such as the Norwood water tanks, MetroPCS Site Acquisition Consultant Michael Johnsen said that in 2010, the town's Board of Selectmen would not issue a request for proposal (RFP) to put more antennas on the tank.
“They were familiar with what they wanted to do, but in 2010 the selectmen voted against issuing an RFP to put more antennas on the tank,” said Johnsen. “It was not something we could pursue at all.”
Planning Board Vice President Steven Olanoff asked what the reason was for the Board’s decision, and Johnsen replied that he did not know, but said that there was no misunderstanding. He said that they were very familiar with the process and still did not go through with it.
Even so, Souza and team he brought to testify, agreed that even the Norwood water tanks would not fill the coverage gap. However, Maxson said that they had no statistical data to go along with the drive test where Maxson said they were just “comparing colors” on the maps.
Planning Board Chairman Steve Rafsky asked Souza if he felt his Maxson’s report was deficient, to which Souza replied, “It’s not my place as a lawyer to challenge the technical aspects of his report, but it is my place to highlight that there are two engineers disagreeing with his plots. They are supplying technical information that is different than his report.”
Residents echoed concerns stemming from the previous meetings, regarding the loss in property value and an aesthetic nightmare. Many questioned, after hearing Maxson’s review and Souza’s statements, whether they even looked into alternatives and if a coverage gap really needed to be filled. Residents like Tim Kutzer, who lives behind Temple Beth David, say that he uses T-Mobile and the service is always fairly good.
The audience was also displeased because they felt that they were getting run around answers about which site offered the best possible coverage, regardless of zoning. Eventually, Souza’s experts agreed that it was the Temple Beth David because of geographic location.
The public hearing will continue for a brief discussion on May 17 and then again on June 16.