Facing opposition from neighbors, Hopkinton leaders kill cell tower proposal
Responding to strong public opposition, the Hopkinton Board of Selectmen voted unanimously last night to kill a proposal from AT&T to install a cell phone tower on public land.
“I’m convinced after listening to you all tonight that that piece of land is for public use, and I will therefore vote no,” said Selectman George Langwasser.
The wireless provider had asked to build a 100-foot tower on a town-owned parcel along Old Putney Hill Road. The company wants to improve its cellular service in the area, particularly along Interstate 89, which curves from east to north about a mile south of the site, as well as several spots along Main Street in Hopkinton.
About 50 or 60 people attended the meeting, many expressing concern about the project’s potential environmental and aesthetic impacts.
“Do we want to be known for our cell phone coverage or our beautiful views?” resident Anne Mills asked. “I have this terrible feeling that this is how it starts. We put (up) a cell phone tower and the wildlife go away and then . . .”
The property in question also is a designated town forest – public land intended for multiple uses, including timber production, recreation and habitat protection – and one of several lots the town has purchased in the past decade with the intention of creating a greenbelt around the village. A hiking trail is planned to cut through the property.
Neither the town’s conservation commission nor its open space committee had taken a stance on the project, and it was made clear early on that the tower would not impact the future trail. But Lucia Kittredge, a member of the open space committee, said installing the tower would preclude a long-term vision that the town has in its master plan for a greenway connecting Hopkinton center and Contoocook village.
Though it wasn’t discussed much last night, residents had also voiced concern before the meeting that the tower would significantly devalue neighboring properties. Several neighbors – there are 10 abutters – had said the project could bring home values down by as much as 30 percent, and the subsequent loss in tax revenue for the town would likely dwarf the annual lease payments from AT&T.
Peter Marchant, who represented the company, said the deal was still in the very early stages and all it wanted was for the town to keep the proposal on the table.
“All we’re asking is keep it open,” he said. “We’re not asking for you to say ‘yes’ today.”
If selectmen had approved the first phase of the proposal, it would have gone before voters at the next town meeting and would have been subject to a planning board review and public hearings.
At least one couple supported the proposal. Linda and Craig Dunning, who live on Old Putney Hill Road, said they do not get cell service at their home – from any provider – and suggested last night that the issue was one for the planning board, not the selectmen.
“Everybody is in somebody else’s view,” Craig Dunning said, referring to another resident’s concern about the tower becoming a blight on the neighborhood. “If you’re stuck in a snowstorm without cell service you’re going to be a pretty unhappy camper.”
Resident David Luneau acknowledged Dunning’s point but said the majority of the town has decent reception.
“I do think it’s in the best interest of the town that services are available to everyone,” he said. “Verizon has excellent coverage throughout the town. Had the town not had good service, then I think that would be one thing. But given the fact that Hopkinton is very well covered with wireless service I don’t think this is necessary.”
The nearest cell tower to the proposed site is about a mile and a half north, off Watchtower Road. Marchant said AT&T had looked into using that tower, but it is already at full capacity.
But selectmen Chairman Jim O’Brien said in light of the strong response from residents, he couldn’t justify moving it forward.
“I have a hard time voting yes on something that is going to directly impact those around it,” he said. “Especially a town asset that is in a place where everyone around it feels so emotionally attached to it.”
Newly-elected Selectwoman Sara Persechino reiterated O’Brien’s point, and indicated that her vote had been influenced by the turnout.
“Generally I would support taking it to town meeting,” she said. “But I think after hearing what you all have to say here tonight, it would be a waste of our town’s time to move forward with something that would ultimately be voted down.”
After the vote was made, the town hall erupted in cheers.