COLONIE — It appears a “Frankenpine” is coming to town.
Frankenpine is the not so affectionate, but somewhat comical, name given by the Adirondack Council to cell towers disguised as pine trees. The practice of dressing up the aesthetically-challenged cell towers is becoming more common across the board as solid cellular reception becomes more of a necessity to the public and public safety.
There is a proposal in front of the Planning Board by Verizon Wireless to construct a 79-foot 4G cell tower on four acres of land behind the Elks Club on Watervliet Shaker Road. Included in the 57-foot by 44-foot “fenced compound” would be a 4-foot by 7-foot concrete pad where the tower will sit.
The land is owned by the Elks and is zoned Single Family Residential. The Zoning Board of Appeals granted Verizon a special use permit in July to construct the tower. Once ZBA granted the permit, the Planning Board’s job, as per state and federal law, is limited to screening and drainage, said Kathleen Marinelli, the board’s attorney, and no really an approval process.
“Basically they have a special status in law,” she said.
Just one resident spoke against the proposal during the sketch plan review on Tuesday, Sept. 22.
“This will be 173 feet from my mother’s rear property line and another 30 feet you are on my mom’s deck barbequing. There is not a person in this room who have been skiing with their kids or gone to Cooperstown or Plattsburgh and what do you see sticking out of the side of a mountain. This is not a tree, this is a tower,” said Russ Sage, who lives on Abedar Lane. “You would not put a Walmart at the crossings because there is land down by the flats. I ask you to keep that in mind.”
He asked the board move the tower to another spot on the site further away from his home and for more vegetation planted for screening.
Dave Brennan, an attorney who presented the plan on behalf of Cellco Partnership, which is doing business as Verizon Wireless, said the applicant met with the town’s cellular consultant and it was determined the current location would best hide the tower. A balloon was flown at 79 feet to get an idea of what the tower will look like from different points of view.
He said the tower would serve the Watervliet, Route 9, Delatour Road sections of town where there are coverage gaps and capacity issues of the existing towers. More than 70 percent of 911 calls come through cellular, 50 percent of the people have given up landlines and Colonie police use Verizon hotspots to transfer data while in the field.
This would provide reliable and better service for those sites to serve their localized neighborhoods,” he said of the existing towers.
In Colonie, he said there are antennas on the water tank near Town Hall, a monopole near Latham Circle, on a water tank near Alternate Route 7 and a water tank on Route 2. They all have a range of up to two miles.
“I understand the concerns but we have an area, if you go south from here on route 9 you cannot make a phone call. If you go to St. Pios you can’t make a phone call because it is a dead area,” said Planning Board member Paul Rosano. “Public safety is paramount, and all our police cars, all of our ambulances, have tablets in them and they need maximum capacity.”
In 2018, the Albany County Legislature along with Sheriff Craig Apple, released a study of cell service in the area and found it lacking.
“Cellular service in much of Colonie is terrible, with dropped calls and poor reception a threat to public safety,” said Legislator Paul Burgdorf, R-Colonie, “With many residents dropping land lines and relying exclusively on cell phones, we need reliable cell phone service to contact fire, police and emergency medical services.”
Joe Grasso, the Town Designated Engineer on the project, had some concerns with access and would prefer a road be built from Elks Lane rather than Watervliet Shaker Road. While there will only be one or two visits by technicians to the site per year — the mechanics of the tower will be monitored remotely — construction of the access road on Elks Lane will be less intrusive.