Planning and Zoning approves 176-foot wireless tower behind Chalk Hill

The 170-foot-tower is most visible in this computer rendering, based on a balloon test. This view is 0.12 miles from the proposed site. Virtual Site Simulations LLC

MONROE, CT — A proposal to construct a 176-foot-tall monopole tower at 345 Fan Hill Road, in the woods behind the Chalk Hill building, received unanimous approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday night.

The town has a site license agreement with ARX Wireless Infrastructure, LLC, for the construction and operation of the wireless communications tower on the 72-acre wooded property, which is owned by the town. It will house antennas and equipment for Monroe’s emergency services with room for cellular carriers.

“Our utilities would be underground — all the way to the site itself,” Douglas Roberts, an architect from AECOM, told the commission Thursday. “The 176 feet tall tower will have room for future carriers and have town equipment at the very top.”

Now that it is approved, an existing tower behind the Monroe Volunteer Fire Department will be removed.

AT&T, which has had a cell on wheels (a.k.a. a COW) in front of Fawn Hollow Elementary School since December of 2012, has also expressed interest in the tower.

The Connecticut Siting Council, which has jurisdiction over cell towers, granted the town a couple of extensions for its COW, which eventually has to be removed, according to First Selectman Ken Kellogg.

The new tower will improve poor coverage in that part of town and space will also be available for Verizon, T-Mobil and the Dish Network. The town will receive revenue from leasing its property and benefit from having its emergency services equipment on the tower, according to ARX Wireless.

The monopole tower will be within a 75 x 75 foot area that includes a 50 x 50 foot gravel based fenced equipment compound in the wooded area. Roberts said there will be room for a backup generator.

“The site is unmanned and will take 90 to 120 days to build — winter to summer,” he said, adding maintenance is infrequent. “Other than an emergency where we lose commercial power, there probably wouldn’t be anyone there for months and months at a time.”

Neighborhood concerns

A Change.Org petition opposing allowing a cell tower so close to Fawn Hollow Elementary and Jockey Hollow Middle schools garnered 99 signatures.

When having discussions with ARX, Kellogg said finding the least impactful location, while achieving needed coverage in the area was his overarching concern.

During Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission hearing, Chairman Michael O’Reilly noted how some residents expressed concerns over the health effects of radio waves.

Roberts pointed out that the COW is already in the front of Fawn Hollow Elementary School and said there would be no more radio waves than there are now.

Of the allowable radio frequency loads for a wireless tower in the Fan Hill Road area, ARX Wireless’s tower would be at 7.19 percent of the maximum permissible exposure, according to Keith Coppins, one of the founders of ARX Wireless.

Coppins said his company provided a report to the town and will provide a new report for every new antenna that goes up.

Commissioner Robert Westlund asked if there would be any screening proposed on the tower itself. Coppins said no.

“The tower itself will be a basic monopole, but we’re screening around the equipment to hide the fence at the bottom,” Coppins said.

Roberts said adding screening to the monopole would make the tower more visible, so that is not proposed.

Revenue for the town

According to the lease agreement, ARX would enhance the town’s public safety radio network, providing fiber optic lines, equipment and a generator, while connecting the town’s radio system to the tower.

The town will pay the company back for the equipment using $55,000 of the money it brings in from the agreement, then reducing the amount of rent it receives by $850 a month.

“We’re paying it back over a long period of time without any interest and getting a positive revenue stream going forward,” Kellogg explained.

The town would receive a $25,000 credit up front towards the equipment and $6,000 up front for the option period, as well as $7,000 for its legal and consulting fees.

The town would receive $8,000 each for the tower’s first three tenants, then $5,000 for each new commercial tenant after that.

According to the agreement, the town would receive either $2,250 a month in rent from ARX Wireless or 40 percent of the gross revenue the tower brings in, whatever is greater.

The contract proposal includes escalators. Rent would increase by 2.75 percent a year and after 60 months the town could receive up to 45 percent of the gross revenue if it is greater than the rent, after 120 months (10 years) that rises to 50 percent of gross revenue.

“We’re getting this upgrade to our system, but also rent from the company, or the share of the gross revenue, whatever’s greater,” Kellogg said.

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