Nine years ago Springs residents flooded into the Springs Fire Department headquarters to voice their displeasure at plans by the fire district’s commissioners to allow a cellular phone service provider to erect a 160-foot tower on a back corner of the fire department property on Fort Pond Boulevard.
The outrage appeared to resonate with the five district fire commissioners and residents were told shortly afterward that the proposal was withdrawn.
Then, last month, the tower appeared.
More than 160 feet tall, the familiar white “monopole” typical of modern cellular antenna mounts suddenly towered over treetops and rooflines, a new feature of the once mostly green Accabonac skyline.
Residents say they were ambushed this time and that there was no effort by the fire district to inform the community that the cell tower idea had been rekindled. The only notice, it would appear, was a public notification published in The East Hampton Star in December 2013, asking for comments regarding potential impact on any historic houses. The fire department property sits on a fringe of the Springs Historic District.
“Out of the blue, nine years later, we all wake up to see that they have erected this tower,” Springs homeowner David Kelley said this week. “It can be seen clear across Accabonac Harbor.”
Neighbors of the property say that, the legal notice in the newspaper aside, this time the district clearly intended to avoid the sort of public outcry that swelled in 2006.
“It’s a Pearl Harbor, a surprise attack,” said resident Jonathan Coven, whose house sits, quite literally, in the shadow of the tower and who was one of the leaders of the opposition to the tower proposal in 2006. “That they did this without the kind of notice to the public they sent out last time is in itself a confession that they know how great the objections would be.”
In the letter sent to residents in 2006, the district said that the tower would “be a revenue producer for the district and would improve Springs cellular service for the five carriers in the area.” Residents say they were told the district would receive $70,000 a year in rent from the cellular companies for the land on which the tower would be placed. No mention was made at the time of a need for the tower.
Fire district attorney John Courtney said there was an emergency communications component in the decision to erect the tower this time around, though he acknowledged he has not handled anything to do with the tower in many months and could not recall the specifics.
District secretary Danna Miller directed inquiries to Fire Commissioner Pat Glennon, the board of commissioners’ chairman. Mr. Glennon did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Mr. Courtney said that the fire district is not bound by town zoning codes, which would have barred the tower from being erected in the residential neighborhood that surrounds the fire department headquarters, and did not have to submit plans for the tower to the town for approvals.
“They are a municipality, so they’re not subject to zoning—same as the school district,” Mr. Courtney said. “They have the same authority as the town, relative to their property.”
Mr. Courtney did say the district would have had to complete a State Environmental Quality Review Act assessment of the tower’s potential impact on the surrounding area.
A SEQRA review, even in its most basic form, would have required an environmental assessment of the impact of the tower on environmental and historic features of the surrounding area and on the health and safety of its residents.
“If I lived on Talmage Farm [Lane] I would be apoplectic,” said Springs resident David Buda, a member of the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee and Springs Concerned Citizens community groups. “A 150-foot-tall tower, would fall on several houses if it fell over.”
Indeed, Mr. Coven, who lives on Talmage Farm Lane, said that in 2006 he and other residents did a “fall zone” radius of the tower and say there are nine homes within the zone of potential danger should the pole topple. The fall radius of a similar pole at the Amagansett Fire Department headquarters brushed against only a portion of one residential property, he said.
Mr. Buda pointed to a similar instance in upstate New York in which the surrounding township filed a lawsuit against the local fire department for allowing a tower to be erected on its property. The filing of the suit alone, Mr. Buda said, convinced the cellular provider who was installing the pole to back out of the project.
Mr. Coven, however, pointed to another suit where a Westchester County municipality sued a fire district over a cell tower but lost because the tower was shown by the district to be necessary for improving emergency communications.
“The most egregious thing about this is that the residents were led to believe this was over,” Mr. Coven said. “Whatever argument they might try to come up with that they aren’t obligated to notify anyone, when they told us they weren’t going to do it nine years ago we took their word for it and now they went back on that. If they had said, we might do it someday but we don’t know when and we’re not going to tell you, we would not have gone away.”