Verizon's widely discussed plan to install a cell tower at 82 Puddin Hill Road has draw criticism from some neighbors and support from some residents. Those opposed to the plan say, among other things, that the tower wouldn't look right there and leaders need to explore more areas in town. Supporters cite New Canaan's overall lack of cell service and say safety issues are at stake for emergency responders.
What follows is a letter from the Utilities Commission to Grace Church, one neighbor of 82 Puddin Hill Road. Utilities Commission member Geoffrey Pickard told media outlets in an email that the letter, dated March 6, was sent via email to both Grace Farms Foundation President Sharon Prince and members of the Grace Farms Foundation Board of Directors.
Pickard said the commission is seeking to find a suitable site in that area of town to install a cell tower. As of Pickard's email, at about 3 p.m. Thursday, the commission had not heard back on its letter. Board members are listed at the bottom. It's also attached as a PDF, which may be a better format to read it, since it preserves things like footnotes.
Dear Sharon, Members of the Grace Farms Foundation Board of Directors,
The New Canaan Utilities Commission is writing to you in the hope that we can engage you and the Grace Community Church in a conversation to discuss how cell phone service in the northern part of New Canaan can be improved. Our goal would be that any solution will be good for both your community and all residents of New Canaan.
The Town Utilities Commission has no jurisdiction over the placement of cell towers in New Canaan, but does serve as a facilitator in the process. We want to make sure that all options and points of view are considered, and that ultimately the siting decision reached for a new tower is in the best interest of the public. In this vein, the Utilities Commission called Ms. Prince last December. We wanted to make sure that you had advanced notice of the public hearing Verizon was required to hold later that month.
As you know from prior meetings and discussions, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are the predominant wireless providers in New Canaan. We must depend on their expertise, which includes using sophisticated radio frequency (RF) mapping and other techniques, in assessing where there is adequate coverage and where new towers are needed. The topography of New Canaan presents very specific challenges in improving coverage. Unlike Darien, which is relatively flat and has about 70% wireless reliability, New Canaan has many ridges and valleys, resulting in about 25% reliability for our town. In addition, cell tower antennas can broadcast to a distance of about 1.5 to 2 miles depending upon the height of the tower and the local terrain. Our distinct topography tends to reduce the coverage range of some of the towers.
The northern part of New Canaan where Grace Church is located suffers from particularly poor cell service. It is the focus of the Utilities Commission to try to improve service in that area, given the increases in 911 emergency calls that are not being completed. Not only is cell service a problem in the northern part of town but of equal concern is the lack of reliable radio coverage which makes it difficult for police, fire and EMS personnel to communicate dependably. Hurricane Sandy highlighted this problem with the occurrence of two very disturbing incidences in the northern part of town. One involved a New Canaan family who lost their roof to fire because they had to drive several miles before getting a cell signal to call the fire department. In another incidence, a town worker was trapped in his truck by downed live power lines until other workers found him and called CL&P to turn off the power. With any new growth in the area and the expansion of your congregation, town officials and the Utilities Commission want to make sure that there is sufficient wireless service to take care of the residents as well as the members of the Grace Church Community.
The property on which Grace Church is located – formerly Windsome Farms and now Grace Farms – has been one of the sites that has long been viewed as a potential site in solving this coverage problem. Because of the elevation of this property and its size, and that much of the land is not visible from the adjacent roads and properties, phone company RF engineers advised us that the property has a terrain well suited for a cell tower. A new cell tower on your land could be sited and designed in such a way that it would not obstruct views or be unpleasing to either the Grace Church community or neighboring residents. Interestingly, we have learned that not too long after your group bought the former Windsome Farms land, one or more of the phone companies called your church asking to speak with someone about siting a cell tower on the land because it was an excellent site. These calls produced no positive responses at that time.
However, wireless providers continued looking for new sites in the area but were not able to identify any. Several of the alternatives that are being considered have wet lands or other environmental issues or are subject to potential legal restrictions which may preclude the building of a cell tower. The Utilities Commission is open to reviewing all possible solutions to this very critical need in our town, and would like to engage Grace Church in a conversation to help us find the best solution for the town. We understand there can be considerable flexibility and scope in the design, construction and camouflage of a cell tower.
Given the extensive architectural and landscaping expertise that Grace Church must have in working on the SANAA designed “River” structure; we feel that there is much that the leaders of the Church could bring to the development of an environmentally appropriate but effective cell tower structure. We would like to work with you in developing a solution which will benefit your church members, both as members of the Grace Church Community and also as residents of the Town of New Canaan.
We would very much like you to consider meeting with us to find a solution for the much needed wireless service in your area. It would be helpful if we could all work together to solve this issue which unfortunately will just get more critical as time goes on. We look forward to a follow-up discussion.
Very truly yours,
Town of New Canaan Utilities Commission.
Grace Farms Foundation Board of Directors:
Dr. Miroslav Volf