Judge Decides In Favor Of Southampton Village In Cell Tower Case

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A State Supreme Court justice has dismissed a lawsuit filed against the Village of Southampton by wireless telecommunications company, MetroPCS, and the First Presbyterian Church of Southampton, upholding a decision by the village’s Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation to deny a cell phone tower in the steeple of the Main Street church.

The decision, which was issued by Justice Paul J. Baisley Jr. in October, said the denial of the cell phone tower application was within the rights of the village regulatory board and was supported by existing, and legitimate, village code.

“Accordingly, the petition/pleading is dismissed in its entirety,” the decision reads. “The court declares that the board did recognize MetroPCS as a public utility under New York State Law and afforded MetroPCS a deferential standard of review as a wireless carrier under the Village Code, that the board’s determination did not constitute an invalid prohibition against the provision of wireless services within the village in violation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and that the determination denying petitioners/plaintiffs’ application was based on an application of criteria within the Village Code and supported by substantial evidence in the record.”

The lawsuit filed on August 28, 2012, argued that the decision made by the village’s ARB on July 25 denying the application was illegal under state and federal law, and asked the court to reverse the ARB ruling and give the plaintiffs, the church and MetroPCS, a green light to construct the tower “with all deliberate speed.”

In 2011 and 2012, MetroPCS and the church went through a series of ARB public hearings in an effort to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness and a building permit from the village in order to construct the cell tower.

The application proposed installing four antennas inside the tower’s clock faces. Four sections of the existing wood siding around the faces on the exterior of the building would have been replaced by fiberglass reinforced polymer, or FRP, to allow more efficient transmission of the cellular signal. The existing historic wood would have been removed, wrapped and stored in crates in the church’s basement storage area.

Much of the controversy during the ARB public hearings stemmed from the replacement of the original siding with the FRP. The representatives from the church and MetroPCS have said that no aesthetic variation would be seen between the old and the new material.

On July 25, 2012, the ARB denied the application because it found that the proposal to install synthetic siding to the historic church tower as required by the plan was “not appropriate to the property” and would be a “voluntary or elective alteration to the church exterior” that does not meet the standards of village code pertaining to historic structures. The board argued that “the use of the FRP does not meet standard of the criteria … and is not an acceptable replacement for the existing wood sheathing.”

This week, Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said he is happy with the ruling, noting that it will give the ARB precedent when faced with similar applications. He also said it is likely that Metro PCS and the church will appeal the decision.

“The ARB always has challenging decisions as a board,” he said. “With this decision, it gives them the support they need to carry out their mission.”

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