The Board of Selectmen is siding with neighbors when it comes to the proposed 120-foot-tall cell tower at the Ox Ridge Hunt Club.
"It's one of the greatest uninterrupted vistas in Darien of open space," Selectman Reilly Tierney said Monday of the 100-year-old hunt club. "It's seems to me there's a strong interest in general from the town in preserving the look and feel of that vista if we can."
At their meeting Monday, the selectmen shared their opposition of the proposed cell tower's location.
At a public meeting May 22, AT&T representatives said the tower was necessary because of burgeoning network use. They said data, not voice, is the greatest need due to increasing use, and that service will begin to decline if a tower isn't erected.
AT&T proposes constructing a 120-foot-high silo to conceal the cell tower.
"You can make it look different," said Selectman Gerald Nielsen. "But you can't hide it."
Nielsen also said he doesn't believe AT&T has proven a need to construct the tower.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said the town of Darien's only purview regarding the cell tower is to suggest alternative locations, which she said was "extremely reluctant" to do.
"I would probably refrain from suggesting alternative locations because I believe we would move the problem from one neighborhood to another," Stevenson said.
Selectman Susan Marks said she doesn't want to see AT&T "keep going from neighborhood to neighborhood" in attempts to find another location for the cell tower.
The Connecticut Siting Council will consider the tower, which needs no local government approval. State law requires AT&T to consult with the town prior to filing an application with the siting council.
As part of AT&T's report to the town, it did consider other locations, but for various reasons it could not be considered viable tower locations.
The site at the Ox Ridge Hunt Club meets AT&T's technical criteria and is a location where AT&T could "creatively design" a tower to look like a silo that belongs on the property, according to a letter to Darien from Christopher Fisher, an attorney from Cuddy and Feder, representing AT&T.
A letter to the Board of Selectmen from Jenny Schwartz, one of the residents leading the opposition to the cell tower, suggests looking into alternative technologies that do not include a large cell tower, which Stevenson agreed was something the town could consider.
"I am asking the town to be proactive in the role of developing a comprehensive cellular connectivity plan that identifies and balances the need for cellular and data coverage while effectively complying with land- use regulations," Schwartz wrote in her letter.
Schwartz requested that the Planning and Zoning Department conduct a public hearing to receive input from the town before responding to AT&T.
Schwartz, who lives on Saddle Ridge Road, which is near the club, added that while she may be opposed to a cell tower at the Club, she is not opposed to one at other locations or the idea of using other technologies.
A Change.org petition to request a meeting with the hunt club's board of stewards cites a potential decrease in property values as a reason for opposition. The petition also lists the threat to the health and well-being of the hunt club staff, members and horses; the construction of a "silo" on a property that is not a farm; and that the revenue the club will generate from AT&T does not outweigh the "costs" outlined in the petition. The terms of the lease arrangement with AT&T are not yet public.
"I know the neighbors have a direct economic interest, but I think everyone has an interest, if we can, to take steps from time to time to preserve places like that," said Tierney.
On May 28, Stevenson and state Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, met with a group of neighbors to discuss the tower.
Following the meeting, Wood said she is "certainly happy" to support the neighbors in their opposition to the cell tower, and would help them understand the process with the siting council.
Stevenson said the town's legal counsel is investigating the impact of the town's right of first refusal on the property and if it could be executed.
"Until there's a proven need and before we hear other sites where we can potentially put this, I would not support it," Nielsen said.
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