AT&T is looking to increase its wireless service in East Hampton Village. To do so, the cellphone service provider is proposing to install 12 antennas at the Schenck Fuels property at 60 Newtown Lane.
While the plans, which were initially introduced in December, are being hammered out with the Village Zoning Board of Appeals, some neighbors are still concerned about the level of noise the tower might create, as well as the impact of the radio frequency emissions that would stem from the antennas.
Despite those concerns, John Huber, an attorney for the applicant, argued at Friday’s ZBA meeting that there would be very little impact to those surrounding the cell tower.
AT&T is proposing to install the antennas on the face of Schenck Fuels’ steel oil tank, as well as telecommunication equipment, including cooling fans, on a concrete pad below it. The antennas would not exceed the height of the tank, which stands at 44 feet, but would still require a variance because they would exceed the maximum height of 30 feet.
In order to proceed with the installation, AT&T and P.C. Schenck & Sons LLC also need to obtain relief variances because the concrete pad that would hold the tower’s equipment would not conform to setback requirements. The proposal puts them at 23 feet from the parcel’s northern property line, where the required setback is 100 feet, and 20 feet from its easterly line, where a minimum of 40 feet is required.
If the project gains village approval and proceeds, cell coverage for AT&T subscribers would cover more of the village’s commercial district as well as farther northwest, including more of Newtown Lane and out to Cooper Lane and Cedar Street, according to AT&T’s application.
“There is … a substantial service gap in the AT&T wireless network in the vicinity of the proposed facility,” said Stephane Guillabert, AT&T’s radio frequency engineer, in a report. “Customers cannot reliably transmit, receive or maintain a voice or data connection.”
She said that AT&T did a signal propagation study to determine the needed height and location of a cell tower that would eliminate the deficiency.
But some neighbors are concerned that that reach will come with a price. Among them is Naomi Salz, who lives on Osborne Lane.
“I feel like a dinosaur is coming to eat East Hampton Village,” she said. “It’s hard to get much bigger than AT&T, except the U.S. government, but this is a very inappropriate place to put up such a facility. It’s all well and good that we’re told by AT&T that everything is safe and appropriate, but people’s homes, the village nearby—possibly some of the effects can go further than three or four houses. It would be very unfortunate if in years from now there is some radioactive effect that has been affecting people in some way. It’s the location more than anything that I find disturbing.”
Even though the ZBA does not have the jurisdiction to make a decision based on the health effects of the project, according to Mr. Newbold, Mr. Huber assured Ms. Salz that the emissions from the cell tower are acceptable in the eyes of the Federal Communications Commission.
According to Pinnacle Telecom Group, which was commissioned to analyze radio frequency levels for AT&T, the antennas are FCC compliant and, in the worst case, would emit radio frequency levels more than 32 times below the limit established as safe for continuous human exposure.
Drew Bennett, East Hampton Village’s consulting engineer, had also put in his two cents on the proposed antennas. He said that since the levels are well below the limit, he couldn’t find fault with that aspect of the project.
Frank Newbold, chairman of the ZBA, said the board is not concerned about the tower’s emissions but about the noise its cooling fans might make.
“I think our concern is still the noise,” he said. “The fuel depot is preexisting and the residential neighbors [on Barns and Newtown lanes] bought knowing there was an existing level of noise, but to add a level of noise is a burden on them.”
Mike Patel, of Tectonic Engineering of Newburgh, said that the tower needs cooling fans when the system gets warm, whether from a high temperature outside or from high level of service. The fans would be stored in cabinets on the cement pad and in a worst-case scenario would create a level of noise just above the sound of a refrigerator kicking in, he said, which is anywhere from 55 to 60 decibels.
Mr. Patel said that when nothing is going on at the site, the ambient noise level sits at 44 decibels. When the fuel trucks roll in, it bumps up to about 90 decibels—double the sound level the fans would make, he said. Mr. Patel said that at the nearest home’s property line, at 19 Barns Lane, the fans would hit 53.8 decibels.
Additionally, the application calls for the installation of a 6-foot fence to buffer the noise down to 44 decibels.
Despite AT&T’s attempt to soften the impact of the fans, neighbors are still wary.
“It’s already very noisy with trucks going in and out all day, but there has to be a better way to put these fans to another area,” said Barns Lane resident Joseph Lambiase. “I understand it’s an industrial site, but putting out any more noise is too much. There are other buildings and other options they just don’t want to take.”
Mr. Newbold said that the area where the cooling cabinets are is right behind a one-story cinderblock garage, which could bounce the sound out toward the residential area.
In addition to the sound-baffling fence, board members asked Mr. Huber if there could be any other place where AT&T could put the fans so that the sound would be mitigated.
According to Mr. Huber, there is no other place on the site. He said that the equipment cannot be buried underground either because it has to be regularly maintained.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like sitting out on your patio in August with diesel trucks going in and out,” he said. “I empathize, but it is important to consider this within the context of a fuel depot.”
Despite his plea, noise still remains an issue for the ZBA. Mr. Huber was asked to come back with a recommendation to make the fans as quiet as possible, and the public hearing was left open until the board’s next meeting on February 14.
“We want to find a resolution everybody can live with,” Mr. Huber conceded. “I will ask Mr. Schenck, meet with him and walk the property to see if there is a location of sufficiency.”