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Public hearing set for zoning code changes

Proposal includes changes to cell tower rules

There will be a public hearing June 22 on a slew of proposed changes to the Town of Bethlehem's zoning code.

At least one of the provisions has already drawn interest. The proposed changes include altering the town's telecommunications facility regulations (for cell phone towers) to set a priority list of areas a tower can be located.

The new code would require applicants to try to site, in order of preference, on existing cell towers or structures, power and transmission towers, industrial land, agricultural land, commercial land and lastly on residential land.

The code currently requires collocation of antennas on existing structures.

Town Planner Jeffrey Lipnicky said these changes are intended to keep towers out of residential neighborhoods, where they could be eyesores.

An applicant would have to show he made a good faith attempt to locate his facility in one of the higher categories, he said.

Councilman Mark Hennessey at a Wednesday, May 25, Town Board meeting, cast a dissenting vote against sending the changes to a public hearing, saying he's already heard comments about the changes and would like those discussed first.

"I already know how the public feels about this," he said. "We already have received comments ... and those weren't incorporated."

Hennessey referenced a letter from Zoning Board of Appeals member David DeCancio urging that the code require towers to be at least 1,500 feet away from a school (cell antennas on the town's water tower are now closer to the BC Middle School than this) but this was not included in the update because local governments don't have the power to restrict cell towers because of health concerns.

"It's our opinion that the federal government has preempted this field," Lipnicky said.

Other members of the Town Board said sending the changes to a public hearing is the right action because it will let more opinions be gathered before any changes are made.

Cell tower placement recently became a hot topic after two companies sparred for the approval to build a tower in western Delmar. ESCO Towers was granted approval in February to build a 132-foot cell tower on farmland off of Van Dyke Road.

It's normal for the zoning code to be overhauled every few years as town planners run into inconsistencies or new situations in the course of business. The last time the zoning code was updated was in October of 2008.

A list of the proposed zoning amendments can be found on the town's website.""

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