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Grace Farms: Proposed Cell Tower 'Not in the Best Interests of New Canaan'

Though some neighbors including Grace Farms oppose a plan that would install a cell tower on private property on Puddin Hill Road, town officials and Verizon are pursuing it.

 

Dispelling a rumor that a plan to boost cell service in northern New Canaan had been canceled, town officials on Monday night said Verizon is pursuing a project that would install a cell phone tower at 82 Puddin Hill Road.

Several neighbors, including Grace Farms, have voiced opposition to the plan, and recently some people with a stake in the project had said it had been killed, according to Geoff Pickard of the Utilities Commission. However, Pickard said he and First Selectman Rob Mallozzi met Friday with a Verizon attorney and real estate director and were told the project is active.

“That location still remains an excellent site for a cell tower, in part because of topography,” Pickard said at the commission’s meeting, held at the New Canaan Nature Center.

No one denies that cellphone service could improve in town or that public safety as well as convenience are major drivers for doing so. By Pickard’s estimates, the town sees about 25 percent coverage and needs four or five well-placed cellphone towers to bring that figure closer to 80 percent.

The question—and for advocates such as Pickard, the difficulty—is where to put them. Efforts are underway to bolster what is now weak service by installing towers at the transfer station off of Lakeview Avenue, Armory (just over the Norwalk line) and Silver Hill Hospital.

According to town tax records, 82 Puddin Hill Road is a 4.6-acre property owned by Frederic Lowen. It adjoins Grace Farms, a 75-acre property formerly known as Windsome Farms.

Speaking on behalf of Grace Farms Foundation, Sharon Prince told New Canaan Patch in an email that a “balloon float/crane test in January confirmed that the proposed cell tower would have a significant negative impact on the design intentions of the proposed Grace Farms River building.”

There are several entities involved in Grace Farms. Here’s how Prince described those entities in her email:

Grace Farms is a 75-acre property and facilities that Grace Farms Foundation is developing and managing for the benefit of the Town of New Canaan and Grace Community Church. By way of background, the original purchase of 48 acres of Windsome Farms was an act of charity by a group of individuals who are members of Grace Community Church, for the benefit of the New Canaan community and Grace Community Church. They wanted to retain the open space character of the property and make it available to both the local community and the church. They formed a private company, Grace Property Holdings, LLC, which executed the transaction and received zoning approval for church usage on the original 48 acres in 2008. They subsequently donated GPH and the property into the Foundation which they formed in 2009. In 2009, the Foundation purchased the remaining 27 acres of Windsome Farms to ensure completion of the original open space intentions.

Noting that Grace Farms already has green-lighted the use of its property by emergency responders for a so-called “dry hydrant” in case a water source is needed in that part of town—a decision that has earned praise from Fire Marshal Fred Baker, among others—Prince described the area of 82 Puddin Hill Road as sparsely wooded and sitting at a high elevation.

“So the tower rises well above the trees from all directions and becomes the dominant feature of what would otherwise be a beautiful open space environment,” she said.

“The Board of the Grace Farms Foundation, who is developing the Grace Farms facility and the River building, wholly agrees with the need for quality cell coverage in northern New Canaan and wants to help make it happen,” she said. “But the positioning of this proposed tower is not in the best interest of New Canaan. We have invited the senior management of Verizon to work with us toward a win-win solution, so that New Canaan can enjoy the benefits of world class architecture and open space meadows, and so that quality cell reception is delivered in the north.”

Members of the Utilities Commission on Monday agreed to send a letter regarding the cellphone tower proposal to Grace Church and said they would share that letter with the press and public once it’s been received.

Tom March 05, 2013 at 02:40 PM
Let me get this straight. One of the largest pieces of property is now a 503c. Consequently it is no longer part of the grand list if I understand this correctly. Their board doesn't want to see a cell tower from their "church" property. The tower sits on a tax payers property. Frankly I don't really care what the Grace church's opinion is. I say that they can pound salt and deal with it. Boo hooo!
Craig March 05, 2013 at 02:46 PM
it is amazing the pet church project of a hedge fund tycoon and his wife is in the best interest of New Canaan and a cell phone tower is not. lets get real. clearly the neighbors should have left the previous horse farm owner alone. now they potentially have 600 cars every sunday with no one to thank but themselves. surely the grand Japanese architect can figure out how to get adequate cell service for new canaan into his grand scheme. indeed it must be a project requirement because it is in fact the best interest of new canaan.
Erich Bruhn March 05, 2013 at 04:36 PM
I have to respectfully disagree with Ms. Prince that the tower "rises well above trees." I took the trouble to observe the balloon float/crane test this January from 123 and several locations on Puddin Hill road. Remember, there are two proposed heights. One the 100 ft. Cell tower and a second 25 ft extension for a wind turbine. The cell tower height was hardly noticeable from these locations and definitely not " well above the trees ", even today with no leaves. With full foliage, it would be virtually unnoticeable. The second extension height absolutely was quite easily seen. Ms. Prince also states the area is sparsely wooded. Some of the land yes, but If the test crane was located in the same location of the tower this is not the case. Actually, it is surrounded be trees. Are there any photos of the test crane from various locations? I believe they would confirm my observations. Given the need for cell coverage in this area of New Canaan, I would strongly urge approval of the cell tower height only.
spencer richardson March 05, 2013 at 07:57 PM
Sharon Prince is quoted in the article saying, “[b]ut the positioning of this proposed tower is not in the best interest of New Canaan." I think what she meant to say was “[b]ut the positioning of this proposed tower is not in the best interest of Grace Farms Foundation or Grace Community Church, and we don't really care at all whether it is good for anyone else in New Canaan."
J Bauer March 05, 2013 at 09:48 PM
The Grace Church folks are not talking about if the cell town is an aesthetics problem for the people in town. They are really referring to how it would look from their newly erected church. This is a perfectly okay concern, they are making a rather large investment after all. That said, cell service coverage is very important and if Prince and Co. feel like the proposed location is a poor choice, they have 75 acres with which they can offer to locate a tower to AT&, Verizon, etc...

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