Hopkinton neighbors ruffled by cell tower proposal
A proposal by AT&T to install a cell phone tower on public land in Hopkinton has met opposition from some neighbors who say they worry about the structure’s impact on ecology and property values.
“The concern is that the town of Hopkinton has a policy in its zoning ordinance that really tries to steer these sorts of towers away from sites with historic value or scenic vistas or rich ecology and wildlife, and this site has all of those things,” said David Luneau, one of 10 neighbors whose properties border the land.
The wireless provider has asked to build a 100-foot tower on a 33.2-acre 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 a handful of spots along Main Street in Hopkinton.
Will Keyser, a company spokesman, said yesterday that AT&T intends “to work with the community to see how to address concerns voiced throughout the process,” and noted that “we’re really just beginning that process at this point.”
The property serves as an aquifer for Hopkinton Village and is also a designated town forest – public land intended for multiple uses, including timber production, recreation and habitat protection – with a mixture of old growth and young pine. It is one of several lots the town has purchased in the last decade, with the intention of eventually creating a greenbelt around the village. A hiking trail is planned to cut through the property.
As proposed, the tower would be accessed by a 12-foot-wide gravel road and would be surrounded by a small compound at the base, housing a diesel generator and an air conditioning unit. It’s not yet clear where the tower would be located on the site, but under the town’s zoning ordinance it would have to be placed at least 150 feet from the road. AT&T would also have to string power lines to the site.
Town Manager Neal Cass said administrators were first approached with the proposal late last year and are now weighing whether to proceed with exploring a lease agreement, which would require a review by the planning board, at least one public hearing and approval by voters at a town meeting.
But some neighbors said the town should stop the plan immediately.
“This is town-owned property dedicated to conservation,” said Richard Hesse, who is not an abutter but lives within a quarter-mile of the site. “If they build this, it opens the door to defeating the whole purpose for having conservation in the first place.”
In addition to the direct abutters, there are 14 families who live within 500 feet of the property.
Hesse, who denounced the project earlier this week in a letter to the Monitor, also expressed concern about placing a tower in such close proximity to one of the town’s historical hubs; the area is home to the town’s oldest cemetery and several other historical markers.
Martha Fairfield, an abutter, said the tower would “change the whole aesthetic” of the neighborhood. She and other abutters also warned that the project would be detrimental to property values, which would, in turn, impact all local taxpayers.
Though the town would net an estimated $1,200 to $1,300 per month from the lease, the loss in property values would likely dwarf the income, said Helen Satter, a real estate broker and neighbor. She said the project could easily bring down home values by as much as 30 percent – in an area where homes are valued between $350,000 and $1 million.
“If you have that much money, you’re never going to spend it on a piece of land looking at a tower,” Satter said.
Luneau said the abutting property values totaled $3.5 million, and that there is an additional $5 million in home values in the surrounding neighborhood.
“A 30 percent loss would mean a big loss in annual property taxes,” Luneau said. “This wouldn’t only impact us; it would mean a tax increase for everyone.”
Selectmen Chairman Jim O’Brien said he hadn’t seen enough evidence to support that argument but would be conscious of it if the proposal moves forward. “I understand the concern. I just haven’t seen any specific data, so it’s hard to say,” he said.
Some neighbors have also questioned whether the tower will be able to serve its intended purpose given its relatively short height, but Keyser said engineers have already determined that it would “robustly” meet the coverage needs.
Keyser noted that AT&T typically assesses two or three possible locations before picking a site to install a tower, but in this case has already evaluated eight or nine.
“We have worked hard to find the best site that would host a tower,” he said.
Abutters also said they have been approached with cell tower offers in the past but have turned them down.
“A number of our neighbors have been approached and turned down pretty significant monthly lease payments in order to preserve the natural characteristics of this area,” Luneau said. “So we feel the town should now step up and be a good neighbor, too.”
But a few nearby residents have voiced frustration with the cell coverage on their property and indicated they would support the tower installation.
“We have no cell phone reception and feel it is disingenuous for people who have excellent coverage on top of the hill to be resistant to improving the cell phone reception on the village side of the hill,” Linda Dunning, who lives on Old Putney Road, wrote in an email to the Monitor.
The Hopkinton Conservation Commission, which oversees the trail and greenway project, hasn’t taken a stance on the project and has said the planned trail would not be affected by the tower. Ron Klemarczyk, the town forester and a member of the commission, suggested that if it’s approved, the tower’s entryway could possibly double as a trailhead. He also told selectmen last month that the town should receive any revenue from clearing timber during pre-construction.
The nearest cell tower is located a mile and a half north of the proposed site, off Watchtower Road. Ted Bradstreet, whose home is roughly a hundred feet from that tower, said he can hear its air conditioning equipment switching on and off constantly, especially in the summer.
“If that doesn’t drive you off the porch and into your house I don’t know what will,” he said, adding that the tower had “ruined” his property value and the surrounding views.
Regardless, O’Brien said he and the selectmen are prepared to listen carefully to concerns voiced by residents before moving the proposal forward.
“From my point of view this is a town asset, and so if the abutters have strong opposition, that weighs very heavily on my mind,” he said. “This isn’t something that the town has to do. If there is a consensus that it is a good idea, then we can go forward with it, but if no one wants it to be built then there is nothing compelling us to go through with it.”
The selectmen will discuss the project and hear from the public at Monday’s monthly meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. at the town hall.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)