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.