COLONIE — Residents of the King Thiel Senior Community are up in arms over a proposal to build a cell tower about 100 feet from their building.
It’s a somewhat convoluted story. In 2006, Verizon Wireless struck a deal with Elks Lodge No. 2192 to lease land outside its building on Elks Lane off Watervliet Shaker Road to build a tower to support cellular antennas. Nothing happened but Verizon started paying rent in 2008.
In the meantime, the Elks sold a chunk of land to the Colonie Senior Service Center, Inc., which built a 96-unit independent living apartment building for those 55 years old and up. Ground was broke for that project in 2017.
“In the 207-page application, it said it was in an isolated area and in 2006 it was,” said Nancy Koltko, a resident of King Thiel who is staunchly opposed to the idea. “But they developed it since then, and things need to change according to any change in the demographics.”
Verizon was denied a building permit by the town, and went before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday, Feb. 7. Some two dozen King Thiel residents came to the meeting in opposition.
No action was taken by the ZBA on the 70-foot “stealth” tower that would hold some 12 panel antennas and a 176-square-foot equipment shelter. A “stealth” tower means it would be “disguised,” like a big pine tree, which are dubbed “Frankenpines” by detractors.
Town Attorney Mike Magguilli said Verizon is still paying the Elks for the easement and the town has no control over that.
But, the town did grant Colonie Senior Services permission to exceed allowable density at King Thiel by issuing a Planned Development District permit. Magguilli said the only mention of a cell tower on any of that documentation was a notation on the blueprint so when it came back up late last year the town was somewhat taken by surprise.
“It appears the project has been around a long time, but every public hearing we had about the PDD it was not mentioned once,” he said. “The main problem is they want to build this cell tower within 92 feet of the senior facility. We agree with the resident that this is not a good idea.”
For the cell tower to get approval now, the PDD will have to get amended which takes an action by the Town Board rather than a simple stamp of approval by the Building Department or the Planning Board.
There are federal guidelines, though, that may supersede town law when it comes to building cellular infrastructure. Permitting is governed largely by need, and late last year, with Albany County legislators by his side, Sheriff Craig Apple said he would conduct a study into the sporadic cell phone service in Colonie, namely along the Route 9 corridor, along Albany Shaker Road and in the area of Old Niskayuna Road.
“The wireless industry has a tremendously effective lobby and the fear is there are federal laws that preempt local laws,” Magguilli said. “When we negotiate with cell phone companies we often do so with, not just one but both hands tied behind our backs.”
Colonie Senior Services Inc., is not a town department but is often confused with the town’s Senior Resources Department.
Regardless, residents there are not giving in.
“Do you want a cell tower within 100 feet from the back entrance you use every day. It’s ridiculous,” Koltko said. “I’ve been a social worker my entire life and advocated for people and I’m going to do everything in my power to stop this. We feel it is wrong and we are going to fight it.”