Niskayuna officials mull proposed cellphone tower

public safety

NISKAYUNA — Public safety and financial benefits from a cellphone tower proposed for Niskayuna’s WTRY Road may outweigh opposition from town residents who fear their property values will decrease.

The 120-foot tower, which Florida-based Tarpon Towers wants to build on town-owned land, was discussed by Niskayuna officials at Friday’s meeting of the town’s Economic Development, Historic Preservation & Environmental Conservation Committee.

The Town Board, which tabled a resolution that would have cleared the way for construction of the tower at its July 24 meeting — is expected to vote on the matter at its Aug. 28 session.

The town Planing Board and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the tower on June 25.

Deborah Foley, a resident of Pinecrest Drive, which runs parallel to WTRY Road, spoke against the proposal at Friday’s meeting. She previously voiced opposition to the tower during meetings of the Town Board and Planing Board and Zoning Commission.

Foley said people in her neighborhood were aware of the presence of transmission towers for radio station WTRY when they purchased their properties, but they never thought they’d have to worry about the installation of a cellphone tower.

“What you’re doing to our neighborhood is incredibly disappointing,” Foley said, adding she believes the neighborhood — impacted by noise and lights from town service buildings on WTRY Road — is becoming more of an industrial area.

She also said she believes the installation of a cellphone tower contradicts the town’s comprehensive plan, which she said stresses the importance of maintaining residential neighborhoods and aesthetics, as well as maintaining property values.

“All would be significantly damaged if the cell tower were to be erected in the proposed location,” Foley wrote in an email to board members.

The tower would rise between 15 and 20 feet above trees in the area. If the project is granted town approval, the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Aviation Administration would also need to review plans and grant their approvals.

Town Planner Laura Robertson said sites in the north and northeast sections of the town initially were considered for the tower but were determined to be unsuitable, Robertson added. The goal of the new tower is to eliminate gaps in cell coverage in the Route 7 area.

Board member John Della Ratta, who chairs the economic-historic-environmental committee, has said the town could realize between $20,000 and $30,000 in lease agreements with Tarpon.

If the town votes down the project, Della Ratta said, WTRY could lease Tarpon some of its land located close to the town parcel and receive that revenue. The neighborhood would still have the tower.

“Unfortunately, there are really very limited options,” Della Ratta said. “We’ve got to cover that area, and there are only two spots to cover that area — WTRY and the town property — and they’re very close to one another. It’s going to happen one way or another.”

Della Ratta also said the tower could contain transmitters for public safety broadcasting.

“It’s not just the income,” he said. “It’s the public safety transmitters. The cell tower is going to be there anyway.”

Della Ratta later said if the town voted down the tower and Tarpon contracted with WTRY to install the unit on radio station land, the matter would once again come before the Town and Planning boards.

“We would have to have a valid reason for turning them down,” Della Ratta said. “When you have the balancing effect, you have to balance the public benefit against whatever harm it might be causing. It’s going to come out the same.

“You have six or seven residents impacted by a cellphone tower that is helping emergency services and others contact a whole area that’s got a gap in coverage,” Della Ratta added. “I don’t know if we can say that it’s not in the public good to approve this cell tower. There’s really got to be some overriding factors.”

Foley and others have expressed concern about health problems they believe would be caused by a cellphone tower in the neighborhood.

“We’re not allowed to use the health concerns, even though there’s a difference of opinion,” Della Ratta said. “We’re not allowed to have that in consideration because that’s been federally pre-empted.”

Dave Brennan, an Albany attorney who has represented Tarpon, also appeared at the meeting.

“I think we’ve provided a great deal of information over the last year and a half,” he said, as he left the session. “We’re looking forward to the board considering it.”

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at wilkin@dailygazette.com.