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December 28, 2014
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Bethel passes cell tower law


Everybody who has addressed the issue had agreed that the town needs better cell phone service and, by extension, more cell towers, but there have disagreements about how far the town can or should go in regulating them.

Much of the regulatory authority over cell towers was taken away from towns and states by the federal government with the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Therefore, the town is limited in what conditions it could impose.

At a town meeting on March 9, Dr. Gary Friedland, a resident with a home in the Iroquois Hunting and Fishing Club near the site of proposed cell tower, suggested that several changes be made to the proposed town law that would regulate the towers.

Bethel supervisor Dan Sturm addressed those suggestions at the meeting on March 24. Regarding limiting the height to 20 feet above the tree tops, as opposed to a 200-foot limit, Sturm, reading from prepared text, said, “Coverage is provided by a tower of sufficient height to reach the boundaries of the cell or in the alternative, a number of shorter towers that can provide the necessary coverage.”

He said that if cell companies are required to erect multiple towers and are then required to obtain land rights from many landowners, the cost may become too expensive and may represent an “illegal impediment under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.”

Another suggestion, that the setback for a tower should be lengthened from the proposed 200 feet to 1,500 feet, was similarly viewed as a possible violation of the act.

As for the suggestion that the town should require periodic testing of the tower transmissions, Sturm said the board believes the regulation of the radio frequencies by the town is preempted by the act.

Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to adopt the law and, according to the testimony of multiple landowners, a cell tower is planned to go up on land owned by the Boy Scouts of America off Crystal Lake Road.

Phish follow up
There was further discussion about the three Phish concerts scheduled for Bethel Woods Center for the Arts over Memorial Day weekend.

Resident Henry Rumsey said that because the concerts are being held over a holiday weekend, he feared that the event “could match 1969,” a reference to the Woodstock festival. He said his family planned to buy “enough groceries, enough water, and enough pet food to stay on our property for that weekend.”

Sturm said that he and lawmaker Robert Blais had met with officials from Bethel Woods, and he “couldn’t ask for a better partner” who is willing to work to make sure things go well.

Lawmaker Vicky Simpson said that the people at Bethel Woods want the weekend to be successful as it kicks off their summer season. She said, “We’ve worked well with them before, and we’re in talks with them now.”

Smallwood Golf Course
Also at the meeting, Sturm announced that Upstate Land Development, the company that had owned the old Smallwood Golf Course, had dropped any right to appeal the court case that upheld the town’s right to change the zoning on the property. It marked the end of a lengthy campaign waged by the group Preserve Smallwood Country Life (PSCL) to prevent the erection of 200 townhouses on the environmentally sensitive land.

Jonathan Hyman, director of PSCL, issued a statement saying, “While acknowledging that growth is necessary and inevitable, PSCL worked with the town board and other citizens groups to advance long overdue, updated zoning for Bethel that is sustainable, equitable and respectful of Smallwood and the town’s character and abundant natural resources. We are pleased with this result and with the news that the challenge to the zoning is over.”