The Examiner

Mt. Kisco Approves Relocation of Cell Tower to Leonard Park

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The Mount Kisco Village Board made the controversial decision last week to relocate a proposed cell tower from a 25-acre site on South Bedford Road to a little-used area of Leonard Park.

Despite urging from a majority of speakers to avoid using any portion of the 116-acre park for the tower, the board voted 4-1 toward the end of a four-hour meeting on Mar. 7 to change its location. Trustee Anne Bianchi was the dissenting vote while Trustee Karine Patino stopped for a lengthy pause before casting her vote.

Mayor Gina Picinich, who later last week told The Examiner that the decision was the most difficult of her four-plus years as mayor, said she ultimately supported the move because the tower at 180 S. Bedford Rd. would have been within 280 feet of two homes, the same reason why she opposed siting a tower on Rolling Ridge Road in 2019.

By contrast, a 130-monopole camouflaged in Leonard Park would be about 1,000 feet from the nearest residence, she said.

“I believed then, and I still do, that (a) tower so close to a home would put undue burden on the homeowners,” Picinich said. “That’s largely the reason why I don’t think the location at 180 S. Bedford Rd. is an appropriate location. It’s simply too close to two residences.”

Picinich noted that there wasn’t board consensus to place a tower in the park three years ago. However, two advantages of tower relocation to the park are the annual lease payments to the village instead of to 180 S. Bedford Rd. owner Skull Island Partners and a greater number of Mount Kisco cell users benefitting from the increased coverage rather than more Bedford customers, she said. The lease payments would be dedicated to Leonard Park.

Based on the village’s other cell towers, it is estimated Mount Kisco could receive about $60,000 a year, although that figure would ultimately be determined by how many carriers locate on the tower, Picinich added.

The process to alienate the parkland before a tower may be placed in the park is expected to take about a year. Approval by the state legislature is needed.

Another difficult decision awaits the board in upcoming meetings on how to replace the loss of an equal or greater amount of parkland. The choices are either to initiate eminent domain proceedings for 180 S. Bedford Rd. or set aside village-owned land on Kisco Mountain. A public hearing was held earlier during the same meeting last week and was adjourned until Mar. 21 with divided sentiments.

Another application for a solar array is before the village Planning Board for a portion of the 25 acres.

About 4,550 square feet is needed for the tower at Leonard Park, plus another 6,600 square feet to install a 12-foot-wide, 550-foot gravel path to allow maintenance vehicles to reach the site.

The remainder of the board struggled with the decision as well. Trustee Karen Schleimer said the board was forced to choose because federal regulations obligate the village to entertain a cell tower application because of coverage gaps on the eastern side of Mount Kisco that have been documented by both the applicant and the village’s consultant.

The Planning Board, which has also been reviewing the cell tower application, may have had to make a decision as soon as Mar. 22.

Schleimer said as much as she dislikes putting a cell tower in Leonard Park, voting to relocate keeps the possibility alive that the village could obtain 180 S. Bedford Rd. through eminent domain.

“The opportunity for the 25 acres may not come again, and as much as I hate the idea of putting anything in Leonard Park and taking away from Leonard Park, even if we allow temporary access, trees will come down, forest will be destroyed, facilities that people cherish will be gone forever, but maybe we can recreate them in a slightly different place,” Schleimer said. “The Frisbee (golf) course, maybe we can make it better somewhere else.”

Patino said it was a difficult choice for her to make because she spent countless hours enjoying Leonard Park as a child and brings her two-year-old daughter there.

There didn’t appear any way that the village could fight the cell tower because of FCC regulations that essentially force municipalities to accept an application in most cases, Bianchi said.

“That’s unfortunate to me but that’s a fact,” Bianchi said. “In order to challenge this thing in court successfully, you have to have some legal basis in which to do that.”

In addition to opposing the tower in the park for loss of parkland and aesthetic purposes, some argued that the village would be violating the spirit, if not the terms and conditions, of a decades-old deed that states that no commercial enterprise is to take place. About 95 acres of the park was donated to Mount Kisco by the Leonard family, a prominent family in the community, in 1941. The remainder of the land was donated by the Wallace family, former owners of Reader’s Digest.

However, Village Attorney Whitney Singleton said the deed also stipulated that if any portion of the land isn’t appropriate for use as parkland, the Village Board may assign it for other uses.

“In a portion of the park that does not have a high portion of utility, that is not appropriate for traditional park purposes, and that can be an issue which is debated, then the Village of Mount Kisco, this board, has the ability to alienate that portion of the property,” Singleton said. “We’re not selling it; we’re not proposing to sell it. What’s being considered is the viability of a long-term lease for a cell tower to provide service for the community.”

It is not known what the length of any lease with Homeland Towers would be until after negotiations are undertaken and completed, Picinich said.

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