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Elma board raises questions about proposed cell tower

Elma Town Board members are wondering whether a proposed 150-foot cell tower near Clinton Street and Bowen Road could be erected at an alternate location.

Board members lobbed several questions at the attorney representing SBA Communications Corp., who brought the request to Wednesday’s work session. The proposal calls for constructing the tower, with as many as four co-locators, behind Santino’s Pizza Shack.

Attorney Matt Kerwin said Verizon Wireless would lease tower space as the company looks to fill gaps in its popular 4G wireless service.

“SBA doesn’t build cell towers unless they have a company lined up to use them,” Kerwin said. “It’s a typical cell installation.”

However, board members questioned the tower’s location, raising concern over its proximity to nearby homes, its short setback from Bowen Road and its use of private property.

Supervisor Dennis Powers pointed out that town code prioritizes town-owned sites for new cell towers.

Cell towers already sit on municipal sites, such as at the Blossom and Spring Brook fire halls and the Elma Highway Department.

A map provided by Kerwin detailed a radius in which a tower would ideally be located. Town officials noted that the town campus falls within the radius.

“We evaluated the site and did not contact the town to discuss negotiating a lease and the reason for that was Verizon rejected it due to its location outside the search area, which would preclude them from providing necessary coverage to the area,” Kerwin said.

Constructing the tower at the Santino’s site would require at least three variances, building inspector Joseph Colern Jr. said.

“The code discourages commercial zoning districts located in or near residential districts,” Colern said.

Powers and board members were also surprised to learn that SBA mailed letters explaining the proposal to residents who live near the proposed site and had not heard back from any of them.

“They need to be contacted again,” Powers said.

In addition, the tower’s “fall-down zone” includes Bowen Road – which did not sit well with Councilman Tracy Petrocy.

However, Kerwin said the tower could be designed to break in half to satisfy the fall zone.

Kerwin said Verizon has cellphone coverage in the area – but not at the level that is in high demand with smartphone users.

“When Verizon looks at a proposed site, it starts with determining what their coverage objective is,” Kerwin said. “The Clinton-Bowen area is underserved.”