COLONIE — The Planning Board, by a unanimous vote, approved the concept of building 79-foot tall Verizon cell tower disguised at a pine tree in a residential zone near the Elks Lodge off Watervliet Shaker Road.
At the base of the tower will be a small shed sitting on a 4-foot by 7-foot concrete slab to accommodate the infrastructure and equipment needed to run the antenna. Once construction is complete, workers will visit the tower three or four times a year to maintain operations.
The location of the tower was shifted since when it was first in front of the Planning Board in September to make it harder for neighbors to see it. In June, the ZBA gave Cellco Partnership, which is doing business as Verizon Wireless, permission to construct the tower in a Single Family Residential zone.
One resident was concerned about the hours of operation but one resident said his family has two teachers and two students in the education system and the existing cell service is bad enough to making that difficult on both ends.
“From their living room they will be able to see the cell tower but in their opinion the improvement to cell service will be significant and is more important than the visual impact,” said Michael Biancino.
Also, a letter was read into the record by Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple stating the need for better wireless service in the area and a second letter by Albany County Legislator Paul Burgdorf, who has advocated for better cell service in that area.
There is room on the tower below the Verizon antennae for other carriers to install antennas but the tower will not be made any taller without first coming back before the Planning Board.
A free standing cell tower is an unsightly necessity in today’s world and one way to make it more aesthetically more appealing is to disguise them pine trees. The Adirondack Council coined the camouflaged cell towers “Frankenpines” when they first started sprouting in the Adirondack Mountains.
Dave Brennan, an attorney who presented the plan on behalf of Cellco, said the fake tree limbs are installed at a density of 2.5 branches per lineal foot and begin at about 40 feet off the ground. The tower from the ground to when the branches start is often painted to blend into the surroundings or is wrapped in a fake bark to make it look more like a tree.
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.
He said 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. 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.
The town has some control over the installation of cell phone towers but once the 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 Planning Board’s attorney.