By Gwendolyn Craig
There has been a flurry of activity around cell tower permits in the Adirondacks, including one approved Thursday in Hamilton County, but some Adirondack Park Agency board members want to take another look at the agency’s tower policy.
The APA board approved a 125-foot Verizon Wireless tower at its monthly meeting on Thursday, with board members struck at the thoroughness of the application and staff presentation. The APA’s jurisdiction over the project involved approving a structure over 40 feet.
The tower, which will be made to look like a pine tree, will provide cell coverage to the area of Eagle Bay, Fourth Lake, Inlet and Fifth Lake in Hamilton County.
Some members of the public submitted comments against the tower. In comments, the Adirondack Council argued that “the proposed tower fails to be ‘substantially invisible’ as it will be visible from many public viewing points.” The “substantially invisible” language is a requirement in the APA’s tower policy.
Ariel Lynch, an APA staff member, presented the application and showed that the tower was in fact visible from multiple points. It could be seen from Fourth Lake, Route 28 and in parts of nearby Arrowhead Park. Since the tower was disguised as a tree, however, simulated photos showing what various views would look like with the tower, had board members convinced that it looked like just another tree.
“To hide a 125-foot tower, I think you did it,” said John Ernst, an APA board member.
Verizon and its contractor addressed most comments the public submitted, something that applicants are given the opportunity but not required to do. Verizon had considered a smaller tower, for example, but anything shorter would not fill the coverage gap, according to its application materials.
Board members noted how helpful it was to see the applicant’s considerations of alternatives and responses to the public’s comments.
Dan Wilt, an APA board member, said the drone photography Verizon shared was also interesting.
Revisiting tower policy
The APA board approved the tower unanimously. Toward the end of the meeting, APA Board Member Mark Hall asked about reviewing the agency’s tower policy. It was something that board members had discussed doing last fall.
APA Executive Director Terry Martino said she and staff were not looking to bring the tower policy to the board more than what Lynch had presented on Thursday. According to Lynch, the APA has issued 476 telecommunications permits to date. Of those, 39 were issued in 2020 — 18 for Verizon Wireless, 11 for AT&T and 10 for T-Mobile.
Martino said it would be labor intensive and something she had hoped would happen in the future when the board had a chair. The APA board has been without a chairperson for some time, and Martino has been working in that capacity in addition to her executive director duties.
Ken Lynch, an APA board member, said with the significant increase to tower requests, he could see the pros and cons of opening it back up for public comment.
Ernst said he thought that the tower policy has been a success.
Hall said he thought Thursday was a bad day to bring up his request because the presentation and application for Verizon were both so thorough.
“But I know we’ve approved other towers I’m not sure we could defend as substantially invisible, and I’m sure we’re going to have more of that coming up in the future,” Hall said. “I’ll reiterate, we need to look at our policy … no matter how much work it is because the next one might not be as dependable as today’s was.”
Hall said he hopes Gov. Andrew Cuomo appoints a chair to the APA board.
Gerald Delaney Sr., executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, suggested that while the towers policy appears to work, getting outside input could be helpful. Delaney said Nicole Hylton-Patterson, executive director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, has asked him to be on her organization’s core team of volunteers. In their discussions, Delaney heard about how having cell coverage can make visitors feel safer.
In other news:
The APA board also unanimously approved a more than 18,500 square-foot housing unit on West Valley Road in the Town of North Elba.
Art Lussi, an APA board member, recused himself from the vote and discussion because it is part of his business’s property.
Devan Korn, an APA staff member, presented the project, which has been approved by both the town and the Village of Lake Placid’s joint review board. The APA’s jurisdiction also involves height because the structure is 59 feet tall.
“The hope is this project will provide long-term housing for community residents,” Korn said.