Verizon Wireless’s proposed to construct a 153-foot cell tower, disguised to look like a tree, on Sag Harbor Village-owned property in the Long Pond Greenbelt. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

After listening quietly to what had been a routine planning report on Verizon Wireless’s proposal to erect a 153-foot cell tower disguised to look like a tree on property owned by Sag Harbor Village in the Long Pond Green Belt, Dennis Finnerty, the vice chairman and senior member of the Southampton Town Planning Board, spoke up.

“The Village of Sag Harbor has designated this area to dump all their uses,” Finnerty said. “And, frankly, I’ve had enough of it, and I don’t know what it’s going to take for our town to approach this municipality and tell it to stop.”

Finnerty said that the area along the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike has traditionally been a Black neighborhood with some families going back generations. “It’s a vibrant, year-round community of color, and I see very big problems with this,” he said. “There has been a lot of focus now on environmental uses, noxious uses, undesirable uses, being pushed to areas of minority communities — and I think that issue has to be addressed.”

When the cell tower idea was first aired in December, neighbors and environmentalists panned it as too tall and out of place in the environmentally sensitive area. Although the application has been filed by Verizon, the village, which owns about 24 acres in the green belt, would be paid rent for the site.

In 2018, over the objections of environmental groups and neighbors, the Planning Board approved a village request to use a small portion of its land as a police impound lot. The village highway department also uses some of the nearby property.

Sag Harbor Village Mayor Jim Larocca on Friday said Finnerty’s comments were “a very inaccurate and unfortunate characterization,” adding that the village impound lot and the property used by the village Highway Department were both well managed.

“I wonder if Mr. Finnerty is aware that six of those acres are operated by the town under lease from us as a transfer station,” he said.

The mayor also said the portion of the village land that has been developed is in a largely open area that has only a few houses and to suggest that the village would place its undesirable uses in a Black neighborhood was wrong. “Making a racial reference is inconsiderate and unfortunate,” he said.

Nevertheless, Finnerty’s objections appeared to light a fire under other board members at the board’s Thursday, January 27, work session.

Chairwoman Jacqui Lofaro agreed that “we really have been saddled with some really difficult decisions with Sag Harbor Village,” but she said she was most concerned with the idea of erecting the tower in the Long Pond Greenbelt, period.

“It’s a chain of environmentally sensitive coastal plain ponds that is one of the highest concentrations of rare species and natural communities anywhere in New York State,” she said. “If ever there was a piece of property that was not appropriate for a 153-foot cell tower, it is this.”

Board members Glorian Berk and Robin Long also weighed in, focusing on the height of the tower itself. Berk suggested “the tower has to be that high so that it doesn’t have to be in Sag Harbor Village.” She questioned whether a more modest tower could be erected in the village to meet its needs.

After planner Anthony Trezza pointed out that federal regulations allow the height of any approved cell tower to be extended by 20 feet, Long said the Planning Board had to think about the precedent that could be set by allowing a 153-foot tower that could foreseeably become a 173-foot tower. “I don’t think that’s fair to any community,” said Long.

And Lofaro said the town’s cell tower master plan seeks to limit towers to 100 feet.

“It’s a saturation of undesirable projects,” added member Craig Catalanotto. “I just see this as bad planning.”

Eric Helman, the attorney representing Verizon, said the company was prepared to compromise and would propose a monopole without the faux branches and would reduce the tower’s height by 3 feet to 150 feet. “I believe that might address some of the board’s concerns with the designs,” he said.

“I don’t think so, Mr. Helman,” responded Lofaro. “Three feet is a minor difference.”

Lofaro asked if Verizon was willing to consider other sites. While neighbors in December recommended that the LIPA substation across the road would be a better location, because there already is a communications tower of some sort there, Helman said a search of town records showed no history of other cell towers being approved for that site.

Helman added that the village-owned site the company has proposed for the tower is on a map of potentially suitable sites for cell towers. Plus, he said, the town code gives a preference for building towers on municipally owned land.

“We believe that considering the challenges in this particular area that we are going on the most suitable parcel,” Helman said.

“I think what you are hearing is that it is not suitable,” responded Lofaro. “It might the broad definition, but the land is too environmentally sensitive.”

Despite the difference of opinion, Helman gave the board an extension until February 10 for Trezza to complete what is called a presubmission report before a formal site-plan application is filed. If Verizon presses ahead with its proposal, the board would be required to hold another public hearing.

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Proposed Verizon Tower In Long Pond Greenbelt Gets Static From Southampton Town Planning Board – The Sag Harbor Express – sagharborexpress.com

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