By Kristen McNerney
A proposed cell tower that could be placed at Putnam Valley town hall to improve cell service is facing growing opposition from residents in the area.
An effort is underway to collect enough petition signatures in hopes of forcing the town to hold a voter referendum where residents would decide if they want a cell tower possibly constructed on town hall property. The tower would be more than 150 feet and placed in the backend of town hall property.
The majority of the town board believes the construction of the tower is necessary, as the surrounding homes have little to no cell service. The town board voted 3-1 to lease the town hall land to Homeland Towers last month during a meeting. Now, Homeland Towers would need approvals from the zoning board of appeals and planning board in order to put the tower up.
The cell problems in the area were evident when in the aftermath of a recent tornado, many residents were without communication during a widespread power outage, Supervisor Sam Oliverio said.
The initial proposed location for the tower was Town Park, which was fought by the board and instead was replaced with town hall as an alternate site. Oliverio said he believes that this is the best location for the tower, far enough away from congested residences and public spaces. He stated that Homeland Towers, the chartered company that will be in charge of construction, could not use any other town-owned location except for Town Hall.
Oliverio’s fear is that if the tower cannot be placed at town hall, the company will place it on private land that could possibly be closer to schools or private residencies. He described these cell towers as “essential federally protected security utilities” and doesn’t see the community functioning fully without them.
He claimed the construction of the tower serves the greater good and public safety expectations.
Despite town board’s persistence with the project, there is currently a petition drive against the tower construction, led by Putnam Valley resident, Dorothy France. If the petition reaches 178 resident signatures, a ballot vote will be held on the issue. France believes that the town board has not put the community’s best interests to work.
As a kindergarten teacher, she believes the proposed site is too close to the town’s elementary school. She spoke for residents of Putnam Valley when she stated her concern for lack of research regarding the benefits of the tower. She also claims that the tower construction is based off the private agenda of local politicians, and that community voices have been largely excluded from the decision.
France said she is actively pursuing supporters for the petition and is close to the minimum number of signatures needed after just a few days of canvassing. She said she wants community members to understand her cause and hopes to bring widespread awareness, working without the convenience of an excess number of public spaces where she would be able to bring the issue to public attention.
If the petition is successful, a ballot vote will cost the town $5,500, Oliverio said. A vote would at least mean that all residents get a say about what is going on in their community, France argued.