As cellular phones move from toys of the elite to everyday tools for the masses, municipalities like Mineola have to keep up with telecommunications providers in order to avoid being overrun by protruding cast-iron towers. Taking the lead from other Nassau communities, the village introduced last Wednesday a proposal which board members say will allow them the most stringent regulations possible on the placement and number of cell towers.
The Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened the door for more competition for all facets of communications, including phone and internet service, by deregulating the industry once dominated by American Telephone & Telegraph, Inc. While the Federal Communications Commission maintains jurisdiction over environmental effects of radio frequency emissions and radio signal interference, the act also gave localities authority over placement, construction and modification of personal wireless service antennaes, towers and accessory structures.
"We have attempted to give this board the greatest latitude of regulation," said Village Attorney John Spellman. "We looked at some model local laws and modified them to give Mineola the best protection possible. We think it will withstand judicial scrutiny."
Only one resident was in attendance at Wednesday's public hearing on the proposal and she did not speak. However, some residents did chime in during the regular board meeting which followed. The board reserved decision until the Nassau County Planning Department issues its response to the proposal. If it comes back favorable, the board can pass it with a simple majority. If not, two-thirds of the board would have to approve it. The process is expected to take about two weeks.
There already exist in the village a few towers, which are licensed for radio, not wireless, transmissions. The existing towers which were approved under the village's code prior to the expected adoption of the law would be able to remain without complying with the additional requirements, with a few exceptions. For example, the existing towers will still have to maintain a 200-foot buffer zone from residentially zoned land, will have to be certified as structurally sound by an engineer, and be properly maintained. Spellman did say that owners of some of the existing towers may have to reapply for a permit upon passage of the law.
The proposal puts in place a new application process to obtain permits to build towers. The permits would be effective for two years and renewable upon reapplication. Every new antenna or tower would also be subject to a public hearing.
The cornerstone of the legislation is the village's promotion of co-location of towers and antenna. A section of the proposal reads:
"No new tower shall be built, constructed or erected in the village unless the tower is capable of supporting another person's operating telecommunications facilities comparable in weight, size and surface area to the telecommunications facilities installed by the applicant on the tower within six months of the completion of the tower construction."
Essentially, in order for a tower to be approved, the owner must agree to the possibility that a competitor's antenna will be attached to it.
The proposal's placement requirements include setting towers back on all sides the same distance as the height of the structure. The law would also govern the design and illumination of the towers, as well as landscaping surrounding the structure.
Deputy Mayor Warren Brinker said he has had some calls from residents without cable television who say their reception has been interrupted as of late. Although Brinker stopped short of blaming the problem on nearby towers, he said there is probably a correlation.
"I don't think anyone can say the towers are not part of the reason," he said.
One such resident, Walter Crosby of Maple Place, missed the hearing but addressed the board during the regular meeting. He said a radio tower on his street is not only a nuisance to television service, but a serious health threat.
Saying the tower has "new arms growing out of it every day," Crosby pointed to signs on the fence surrounding the tower which indicate its harm to people.
"I took a survey," he said. "On Maple Place, almost every other house has someone affected by cancer. I think it's dangerous to our community."
As little as two years ago, the tower in question had only one antenna, Brinker said. "But it was growing and growing until we stopped them."
If the proposal is passed, the board believes it will have the leverage necessary to deal with the many companies already soliciting the village with applications.
"We're looking at minimizing the number of towers and maximizing the service," Spellman said. "The village has been in talks with several companies, all of which are used to dealing with these types of laws."