AT&T yanks controversial cell tower bid


No monopine will take root over Olin Howland Way in south Westport at least for now.

AT&T informed Westport last week that it wishes to withdraw its application to install a 150-foot tall cell tower on a 20-acre property at 7 Olin Howland Way, a small laneway that leads west from the vicinity of 1721 Drift Road. The location is just north of where Drift Road crosses Route 88 at Westport Point.

Westport's Zoning Board of Appeals, which was hearing the request, voted Wednesday, Feb. 12, to allow AT&T's request for a withdrawal without prejudice, meaning that the company may file anew at some later date.

AT&T's change of heart came two weeks before the zoning board was scheduled to return to the cell tower request after taking time off for research. At the last meeting on the subject in December, a number of residents and the town's Historical Commission objected to the plan.

An AT&T spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

"Great news," said Mark Pawlak, who's 1 Olin Howland Way property is among the closest to the proposed tower site.

He said he wasn't entirely shocked by the news because it seemed that AT&T had not been pursuing a to-do list given it by the zoning board, including a required balloon line-of-sight test.

"Not many people like to stand up at town meetings and deal with something like this … it seems that especially with a giant corporation that there is nothing much that can be done." But this time, people spoke out, "the board listened carefully and they really did make a difference."

Mr. Pawlak said that there is a good chance AT&T will be back — "that is their right and I understand that good cell phone service is important" — but he hopes the next site will be less intrusive. He also wondered whether a town-owned property is available "so that maybe Westport can get some revenue out of it."

Robert White, whose property at 1705 Drift Road would have been 400 feet from the tower and in full view of it, said the letter is a relief.

"I am not anti-cell tower — people need better cell phone service in the area — but it is a matter of balance."

Even dressed up as a pine tree (such monopoles are sometimes dubbed monopines), as AT&T said might happen, it would stand out.

"That pole would stand 90 feet above the tree line," he said. "Disguising it as a pine tree wouldn't help much."

Mr. White said it appeared to him that AT&T hadn't done sufficient research on the location and apparently "grabbed the first thing that was there."

"I'm glad they will continue looking," he said, adding that he appreciates the diligence shown by the zoning board as the process unfolded. He said that he thinks Westport, like other towns, might benefit from having a consultant assist with site selection (possibly of a town-owned property), zoning and negotiations.

The 20-acre property where the tower was proposed is owned by Al Ross and is used in part as a horse farm.

Among the neighbors' objections was the fact that cell tower's proposed location was at the front edge of the property rather than set back toward the middle, a fact that would have required a zoning variance.

Mr. Pawlak said several weeks ago that he was especially upset that the pole would be "right up front and center" on the 20-acre site.

"They don't want it set back further," near the horses. "So we are supposed to accept it being placed up closer to our houses … and to Drift Road?"

Also speaking against the project was the Westport Historical Commission.

A 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."



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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.