Residents, Planning Board debate cell tower regulations
Northborough – Residents filled the conference room that held the Jan. 19 Planning Board meeting to voice their concerns over the rumored changes of setback distances between schools and residential property lines and wireless cell towers.
The Planning Board has been discussing reducing the original setback distance of 1,000 feet to a lower restriction. Residents feel the change is unnecessary and that it has the potential to have dangerous, harmful consequences. The discussion occurred a month after the withdrawal of a special permit application to erect a cell tower for National Grid.
Town Planner Kathy Joubert researched the issue and requested setback distances for cell towers from residential and school property lines from all the municipal planners in Massachusetts. According to Joubert, from the 20 who responded, the consensus was the responding towns required farther setback distances than Northborough requires.
“If you want to draw any conclusions from that, I think the most obvious is that Northborough is pretty restrictive compared to other communities in Massachusetts,” Joubert said.
Some Planning Board members felt that lowering the cell tower setback distance would be a benefit for the town. Lowering the setback distance, some Planning Board members maintained, would open the possibility of bringing in outside services to the town that would benefit residents.
“Our job is to look out for the benefit of all of the town,” Planning Board member George Pember said. “I think our job is to allow competitors to come in to town, not to prevent them. If we are three times the fall distances than other communities, it doesn’t make much sense to me.”
Local resident Tom Blasko supplied the board with his own research, showing that several towns shared the same falling distance as Northborough. Blasko also cited other reasons for keeping the restriction.
“The reason it’s 1,000 feet from a school is that children with undeveloped skulls can develop brain tumors from the radiation. It’s not just because of the fall zone,” Blasko said. “If you think you’re going to be judged as discriminating [for the 1,000 foot fall zone restriction] I say you have enough cross section here to justify that that’s not the reason.”
Planning Board Chair Rick Leif and the other board members came to the conclusion that there wasn’t enough time to make a decision prior to appearing before Town Meeting, but felt the following months could be dedicated to the issue and remain a part of the agenda. All articles for the upcoming Town Meeting must be submitted to the town administration by Feb. 16, leaving the Planning Board just one more meeting to gather all the necessary information.
“The thing that’s driving this is inconsistencies in how the setbacks are specified in Northborough’s bylaw,” Leif said. “We prefer that no articles go before Town Meeting this year changing the setback because, from our perspective, we don’t have enough information.”
Residents requested a moratorium on the issue in order to give the board more time to conduct its research, a move that was supported Pember. While other Planning Board members were hesitant, they did request Joubert to provide information on just what such an action would mean for the town, including the possibility of halting other cell tower projects in town.
Joubert said she would research what eff ect a moratorium would have on the town and present it at the next meeting.
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