Green light for green cell tower

Cell tower builder calls approval 'bittersweet' after 3-year review

After a lengthy review, a controversial cell phone tower targeted for western Delmar has received the needed approvals from the Bethlehem Planning Board.

ESCO Towers is now poised to begin construction on its 132-foot-tall tower, which is to be located at Sunnyside Farms off of Van Dyke Road. ESCO Vice President Tom Butler said a construction date isn't set though, in part because a 3-year approval process has been more costly than anticipated.

The scrutiny we got versus the dollar value of our project makes the economics of our project pretty tough, he said. "The level of scrutiny we got was, I think, totally undeserved."

All in all, the project appeared at 13 Planning Board meetings and nine Zoning Board of Appeals meetings, and saw three public hearings between those two bodies.

Planning Board Chairman George Leveille said the drawn-out review was in part due to the fact ESCO's application was initially submitted incomplete, and also because the town had to consider a competing tower that would have been sited on nearby Bethlehem Central School District land. Putting that project through its paces took months, with the Planning Board deciding ESCO's tower would have less of a visual impact.

"We have to be deliberate and make sure we listen and consider all those viewpoints," Leveille said.

The cost of the new cell tower will also be increased since the town is requiring a monopine design, which is disguised to look like a pine tree.

Butler wondered if Bethlehem will fall behind " or continue to lag, depending on who you ask " the rest of the Capital District when it comes to cellular coverage. Building cell towers is a specialized business, and developers are keenly aware of the impact a difficult approval process can have on their ventures.

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