Ellicott OKs Cell Tower Legislation

FALCONER — The Ellicott Town Board has adopted a local law to overhaul the process in which wireless telecommunication towers are proposed, built and updated within the town.

The local law — which was unanimously passed by the board Wednesday following a brief public hearing — is designed to “protect the health, safety and welfare of the community” in regards to the cellphone tower application process. The board said the former method was filled with “significant shortcomings.”

Wireless carriers who seek to either build a new tower or modify one already in the town will now be required to contact the town’s code enforcement officer, who will then contact the Center for Municipal Solutions (CMS), a Yonkers-based consulting firm in New York. The Town Board on Wednesday voted to retain CMS to review applications for wireless cell towers, assist the town with the review process, make recommendations on whether applications should be approved or nixed, and inspect the construction of potential new towers.

CMS will also assist with negotiations over leasing with any new towers that are proposed.

Susan Marino, an assistant with CMS, helped the Town Board with its local law and was present for its adoption Wednesday. Marino said the consulting firm currently works with 39 municipalities in New York.

According to its website, CMS “levels the playing field for communities in their dealings with telecommunications service providers and applicants.”

Patrick McLaughlin, Ellicott town supervisor, said the local law and CMS provides the town with “protection” when it comes to cell tower applications.

“They are going to be the lead people for us,” McLaughlin said of CMS. “When an application comes in they will contact (the code enforcement officer). At that point he will contact CMS, and they take care of everything.”

McLaughlin estimated there are at least six or seven towers currently within the town. He said no one has proposed building a new tower in Ellicott, but wanted to make sure there was a system in place should someone come forward.

“Honestly, we don’t have anything on the table here,” McLaughlin said. “It’s not like someone has indicated to us that they are going to proceed with (an application). But this also pertains to existing towers.”

The town supervisor said any modifications to current cell towers will need to go through the new regulation. The local law covers monopoles, lattice towers and other telecommunication antennas.

“This will determine where they will stand, what type of tower they can be, the add-ons — all this other stuff CMS has experience with,” McLaughlin said.

When an application for a cell tower is submitted, $8,500 is put into an escrow account. An application to modify a current tower will require $5,000 to be put into escrow. A portion of the money will go to CMS for its services for a three-month application review process.

McLaughlin noted the push back other municipalities have encountered when towers are proposed. In February, the Chautauqua County Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit brought against Lakewood after an out-of-state company sought to place a cell tower in the village.

The case began back in June 2016, when the village adopted a local law regulating the siting of cell towers in the village which was designed to limit commercial cell towers to parcels which would have minimum impacts on the community. This law also placed the responsibility for paying the cost for evaluating the necessity of the towers, and their proposed heights, on the telecommunication tower developers.

McLaughlin said the local law will add a layer of protection for the town.

“It’s not a question of being in favor or not in favor ,” he said. “Towers are a thing of the present. The FCC likes to see these towers, first of all, as we all know with cellphones and 911. They are almost a necessity; they’re considered a necessity. The location of those towers, we will have a little bit of control over.”