Town officials will meet Thursday with a mobile carrier to review yet another possible location for a cell tower in New Canaan.
The site, on the side of a building at the Transfer Station up above Lakeview Cemetery, marks the latest attempt to improve spotty or nonexistent service in large pockets of town—a problem that advocates say affects public safety and quality of life.
The carriers—in this case, AT&T—have been diligent and patient with the town as New Canaan seeks to boost wireless connectivity, according to Geoff Pickard, who oversees the town’s cell service efforts as a volunteer member of the Utilities Commission.
“We know they [carriers] will not fight our battles with neighbors saying ‘I don’t want it [a cell tower] near me,’ ” Pickard told New Canaan Patch. “They have too much to do. It’s up to the town and Utilities Commission to reason with individuals and convince them this town can and needs to grow from 25 percent coverage to 80 percent, and it will not take that many more towers.”
By Pickard’s estimate, five towers are needed to triple connectivity. Notorious dead zones include Ponus Ridge, Smith Ridge especially up toward Vista, NY and southeastern New Canaan.
Though just five towers are needed, New Canaan is running out of options (see video), as proposals supported by some—including local advocates, carriers and state officials—are opposed by others.
Here are some recently thwarted proposals:
- First Presbyterian Church property (Oenoke Ridge)—Though the tower was to have been installed at a Connecticut Siting Council-approved distance from a church nursery school, some parents opposed the plan.
- West School (Ponus Ridge)—Verizon had advanced a plan to extend cell service from Aquarion-owned, disused water towers up on Ponus Ridge and progressed to a point with the Board of Education on the idea, until some parents opposed the plan.
- Route 123 at Country Club Road—It isn’t clear who owns the patch of land at the intersection where there's a tower that officials have eyed for additional equipment to bolster wireless service. In any case, officials at the Country Club of New Canaan would need to come in as stakeholders, and the club hasn't been reachable, Utilities Commission members said at the group’s monthly meeting on Monday.
Pickard said there are other sites in play:
- Silver Hill Hospital—The psychiatric facility has agreed with T-Mobile to host a tower up behind its main building. That project likely will not be completed until some time in 2014, Pickard said.
- Norwalk Armory—The property is not in New Canaan but could serve New Canaan residents on Carter Street and other areas well, including Merritt Parkway motorists passing Exit 38.
- Puddin Hill Road near Route 123—A private homeowner on a 4.5-acre lot has offered to host a cell tower. However, the proposal is facing some opposition from nearby Grace Community Church.
In all cases, a viable proposal to install a cell tower starts with the carriers themselves, who have special maps (a signal generally can go out two miles from a tower) that can show how many new homes would be served by infrastructure. In New Canaan’s case, because lots are generally large and the town’s population is relatively small, the area is not a priority for cellphone companies, Pickard said.
The process is also tedious and time-consuming in the heavily regulated wireless industry—once a site is identified, it requires approval from the state, and on a local level not only is support needed from key stakeholders such as neighbors, but hurdles such as wetlands, deed restrictions and other local planning barriers can arise.
Pickard said he’s hopeful about the Transfer Station.
“AT&T said it’s a good site to put a tower against the building there, it would extend about 50 feet above the building,” he said.