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Zoning Board criticizes cell tower design

Will pass variances, but ask Planning Board to revisit decision

The Town of Bethlehem Zoning Board of Appeals will approve a height variance to allow a cell tower to be built in western Delmar, but not without recording its objections to its monopine design.

The Planning Board in September approved plans for ESCO Towers to move ahead with the tower design, which is made to mimic the appearance of a pine tree. But members of the Zoning Board, which must conduct its own review to grant the needed variances, objected to this decision at a recent meeting, saying the design will add unnecessary height to the tower.

Though equipment would be positioned as high as 120 feet in any design, a monopine would add up to an additional 20 feet of height for an aesthetic crown of branches.

"We have a task, and our task is to provide the minimum relief possible," said ZBA Board member David DeCancio, who was one of two members who voted against granting the variance. "I believe we are abdicating our responsibility as Zoning Board members should we approve a variance for 120...because it's going to go up to 140."

All board members, excluding Kenny Umina, expressed their disagreement over the decision to build a monopine. Matthew Watson said a more traditional tower type would work better in the location due to the proximity of power lines.

"I think a lattice structure would blend right in," he said. "I think we're going down the wrong path with this monopine."

Additionally, a monopine does not allow for easy expansion should ESCO seek to extend the tower higher to accommodate more antennas. That would leave the door open for another company to apply for a taller tower nearby, argued some members.

Despite these concerns, the fact the Planning and Zoning boards underwent a coordinated environmental impact review, with the Planning Board as lead agency, leaves the Zoning Board with little say when it comes to aesthetics, explained Keith Silliman, counsel to the ZBA. The Planning Board was not necessary considering the height implications.

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