Saugus cell phone tower bylaw out of compliance

SAUGUS – The Saugus bylaw regulating cell phone towers conflicts with the Federal Telecommunications Act and Town Meeting will be asked to bring it into compliance.The bylaw was successfully challenged by the Omnipoint company in federal court in 2005. An attorney for the town’s insurance company handled the case and a settlement resulted. However, the outcome did not resolve the conflict.”We aren’t in compliance. The counsel for our insurance company has recommended that we strike some of the restrictions contained in the wireless telephone bylaw,” said Town Counsel John Vasapolli.According to Vasapolli, the matter previously was brought before Town Meeting and voted down. “I don’t think the members fully understood at the time why the bylaw should have been changed,” he said.Peter Bogdan, a member of the Board of Appeals, recalled the Town Meeting vote. He noted when the bylaw was first adopted, Saugus was home to two monopole cell phone antennae towers. “Today, you might say we have had a proliferation of them,” he said, explaining concern by residents the towers would sprout in every neighborhood.Vasapolli explained the federal act allows additional antennae to be attached to existing cell communications monopoles or existing structures.On a motion by Selectman Michael Serino, the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday ordered Vasapolli to draft a legal opinion for presentation at Town Meeting on why the bylaw should be made to conform with the federal act.”We need to make the bylaw legal,” the attorney said.Selectman Scott Crabtree said applications for cell phone antennae should come before the board for approval. Selectmen Chairman Donald Wong recommended the town building inspector inform the board of all cell phone antennae applications filed at Town Hall.Vasapolli said the issue is two-fold, noting some applicants could be seeking to erect a monopole with an array of antennae. That would not be allowed in a residentially zoned neighborhood, he said. Other applications might seek permission to add dishes or other antennae to an existing building or, perhaps, inside a church steeple. He further explained exclusions to the federal act, such as CB antennae bolted to home roofs and antennae used by public safety agencies.Selectman Stephen Horlick expressed concern that if the bylaw is brought into compliance with the federal law and additions are allowed to existing structures, it could open the town to unwelcome situations. For example, he said, a home built high on a ridge with a barn on the property might lure cell tower companies to lease space on the existing structure. As he put it, little would seem to prevent the barn owners from making $40,000 in annual rent.

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