By Bruce Burdett
If people here wish, backers of a proposed cell tower in south Westport would do their utmost to conceal the thing. They might even disguise it as a giant tree.
Will Keyser, a spokesman for AT&T in New England, said last Monday that they have sometimes transformed the 150-foot tall steel monopoles into something more tree-like, complete with branches and faux foliage. They call them “monopines.”
“We can make the tower look like a tree, not perfectly like a tree, but it will blend in to the landscape better.” They have done this in a number of locations, he said, adding that cell towers have also been concealed in church steeples and made to look like flagpoles.
In the wake of a recent Zoning Board of Appeals meeting at which around 40 residents turned out to express their displeasure about AT&T’s hope to put a cell tower at 7 Howland Way (a laneway off the vicinity of 1721 Drift Road), Mr. Keyser said “we will take into full account the feedback we have received … We will do everything we can to address concerns … and incorporate (them) into our next proposal.”
That will include considering location changes and doing “what we can to address aesthetic concerns.”
The Board of Appeals voted at that meeting to continue the discussion on February 26 to allow time for further study, work that will include floating a balloon to the height of the would-be tower’s peak to determine its visibility from other locations.
Although most at the meeting disagreed, attorney Edward D. Pare (representing AT&T which hopes to lease the site from property owner Al Ross) said this appears to be the best location available in that part of town.
“It is ideally located,” Mr Keyser agreed. It offers the largest line-of sight reach across an area where “there is a significant gap in coverage … AT&T is constantly looking at (eliminating) gaps in its coverage.” Other providers might also rent space on the tower from AT&T.
They objected to putting a tower anywhere on that 20-acre property, but some at the hearing were particularly unhappy about the fact that the tower would be placed close to the property line, thus closer to neighbors.
“It’s right up front and center,” said Mark Pawlak of 1 Olin Howland Way. He wondered why the property owner didn’t want to put it in a more central part of land that is used in part as a horse farm.
Mr. Keyser said AT&T is aware of that concern and will consider it as part of its “feedback review.”
Historical Commission objects
Among those to protest the propel was the Westport Historical Commission which submitted a letter of concern about the plan to “install a 15-foot commercial tower in a residential area.”
The letter, signed by chairman Bill Kendall, noted that the tower would be visible from the East Branch of the Westport River “and from an area of Westport that is well endowed with historic properties,” including along Drift Road and Main Road “as well as the 100-plus properties in the Westport Point Historic District.”
The letter concludes, “It is the Historical Commission’s strongly held view that such a tower would disrupt and seriously degrade the historic and natural fabric of our town. We urge the ZVA not to approve a change from Residential to Commercial to enable installation of such a structure that would seriously and adversely affect what the town has worked so hard to preserve.”