Westport headed to court over cell tower rejection

Georgia cell tower contractor appeals zoning decision to Bristol County Superior Court

By Ted Hayes
Posted 9/21/21

A Georgia-based telecommunications tower contractor has filed suit against the Westport Zoning Board of Appeals, following members' Wednesday, Aug. 18 vote to deny Municipal Communications II, LLC's …

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Westport headed to court over cell tower rejection

Georgia cell tower contractor appeals zoning decision to Bristol County Superior Court

Posted

A Georgia-based telecommunications tower contractor has filed suit against the Westport Zoning Board of Appeals, following members' Wednesday, Aug. 18 vote to deny Municipal Communications II, LLC's plan to build a 150-foot cell phone tower at Masquesatch Road.

The suit, filed in Bristol County Superior Court in Taunton and filed with the Westport Town Clerk last Friday, Sept. 17, asks that the zoning board's 4-1 vote to reject the cell tower plan be annulled, and that the court order members of the board to grant the zoning relief requested by the company.

"The decision denying the application reflects an abuse of the board's discretion, and is in excess of the board's authority,  wrote attorney Wayne F. Dennison of the Boston legal firm Brown Rudnick LLP. It was "arbitrary, capricious and based on legally untenable grounds."

Meanwhile, he wrote, Municipal's plan "is fully in harmony with the intent and purposes of both the (Westport zoning) bylaws and the applicable federal law that preempts the bylaws."

The board voted 4-1 last month to reject the proposal, which had caused widespread controversy in Westport since it was first submitted eight months ago. Those opposed said the tower was too high, and that alternatives for siting cellular arrays elsewhere in town had not been adequately researched.

After more than an hour and a half of discussion at the August 18 meeting, zoning board chairman Roger Menard, vice chairman Gerald Coutinho, Peter Borden and Constance Gee voted against a motion to approve brought to the table by Mr. Menard. Raymond Elias was the only member in favor of the plan, and Barbara Pontoillo was absent.

"It was not an easy decision," Mr. Menard said following the vote.

Still, members said the plan just could not be approved as presented, as there were too many questions, too many variance requests (five, and a special use permit), and not enough science to back up Municipal's claims. Though it would have improved AT&T cell service in the area and other carriers would likely have used it to bolster their own service as well, members acknowledged, they said it asked too much.

The legal challenge was not unexpected. During recent meetings on the matter, board members said they wanted to make sure the town was on solid legal ground after the board's decision, noting that other municipalities that rejected unpopular cell phone tower projects often faced legal action. In drafting the decision, Mr. Menard drew up a list of approximately 20 "findings of fact," listing why the application was not approved.

There was no word this week on when the first hearing or other court action will be held.

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