Petersham cell tower agreement awaits judge’s approval

  • Petersham Town Hall and Town Offices. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 7/30/2020 8:43:49 AM
Modified: 7/30/2020 8:43:48 AM

PETERSHAM — It appears an agreement has been reached between town officials and the company that wants to construct a cellphone tower in Petersham. The original proposal by Tower North Development of Raynham to site a 160-foot tower at 41 Hall Road had been rejected by the town’s Zoning Board of Appeal.

About eight years ago, the ZBA had approved construction of a 90-foot tower by another company, which was later bought out by Tower North. The Raynham company then filed with the town on Jan. 28, 2019 to build the taller structure. A series of meetings and public hearings on the proposal concluded in December of last year, and on Jan. 9, 2020 the appeals board denied the new application.

On Feb. 24, Tower North filed a complaint in federal court.

“From Feb. 24 through July 23,” Selectboard Chair Nancy Allen told the Athol Daily News, “the Selectboard and ZBA have been meeting in executive session with town counsel, as allowed by law, for the purpose of discussing litigation.

“The result of all of that was that, in brief, what we’re allowed to report is that (on July 23) unanimous votes were taken in favor by both the Selectboard and ZBA instructing town counsel to execute a final agreement for judgment with Tower North. Our lawyer explained to us that litigation is still under way until the filing is accepted by the court.”

Allen said town officials anticipate a timely response to the proposed agreement. If, as appears likely, the court makes a favorable ruling, litigation will officially come to an end.

“The next fact that everyone wants to know,” said Allen, “is that, ‘OK, it was a denial of a 160-foot tower; what did you all agree to?’ So, the agreed height is 135 feet.

“Another fact that has been of extreme interest for everyone: the tower will be camouflaged as what they call a ‘monopine.’”

In addition, Allen explained, “There will be three what are called co-locators — three users, one of which is expected to be the State Police communication system, which supports local police and fire. It’s known as COMIRS, the Commonwealth Interoperable Radio System. There will also be two commercial users.

Tower North is leasing the 41 Hall Road parcel — located on what is known locally as Chimney Hill Farm — from Robert Hall and family. The Halls were not a party to the litigation.

Allen said the reason for a shorter tower had nothing to do with the safety of air traffic.

“The town bylaw states that a 90-foot tower is allowed in Petersham, with a special permit. You can’t just go and build it. When you exceed that, the applicant has to go through the process of making their case, and making the case for a cell tower means showing there are real performance differences.”

Allen added that, if the court announces its decision sometime next month, the attorney for Tower North has informed town officials that construction of the tower will take place this fall.

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