Tougher new cell tower rules for companies seeking to place telecommunications equipment in town were enacted this week.
The vote by the Town Board to approve the new laws ends a months-long moratorium on processing applications while town officials sought ways to control where, when, and how the equipment could be built in Clifton Park. The town’s previous regulations were written in 1998 and updated in minor ways in 2000.
The Town Board held several meetings with residents to listen to their concerns and also outline for people the legal limits for the town to restrict cell equipment placement.
A few residents brought up long-standing questions and health concerns for people living near cell towers, issues local municipalities aren’t able to address through town regulations, Town Attorney Tom McCarthy said. One question was whether a proposed 500-foot buffer between the cell equipment and residential property was a sufficient safety precaution. McCarthy said federal communications agencies determine safety parameters, and the town can only enforce the buffer for new applicants.
“The board’s highest priority was requiring the 500-foot buffer for any new applicants, but our hands are tied when it comes to barring companies from adding antennae on already existing structures closer than 500 feet to homes,” McCarthy said.
During the moratorium on new towers, extended twice, town officials reviewed hundreds of pages of information on the latest cell technology, including the types of data transmitted and changing standards in coverage and wireless capacity. They also looked at how the structures impact the rural quality of life in town and how to balance the needs of cellphone users for good coverage with the need to minimize changes in the local landscape.
The new laws strongly encourage co-locating equipment on existing structures, such as water towers, rather than building freestanding bases. McCarthy said new towers must be designed to hold up to four antenna structures.
Applicants are also required to give detailed plans for water drainage, off-street parking and access roads. Companies will be banned from adding artificial lighting structures and using the site as a storage area for maintenance equipment or vehicles.
New sites must comply with the town’s comprehensive and open space plans to minimize aesthetic and visual impacts on the overall community character. Companies must minimize antenna visibility from nearby public streets and neighborhoods by using neutral colors, textures, screening and landscaping, taking advantage of existing trees and vegetation. They’ll also be required to shroud the equipment from view at adjacent waterways, landmarks, community facilities, conservation or historic areas. There will be less leeway for adding more equipment to existing locations. Under the new law, plans for any expansion of existing poles must be resubmitted for approval as new tower construction.
All future applications will also require safety reports by a qualified radio frequency consultant listing the radiation emitted by the equipment, and detailing tower maintenance and inspection procedures.
Town officials said they’re satisfied with the final version, in which they exercise all their rights to have people and cell equipment co-exist in Clifton Park.
“We’ve done everything we can and more,” Town Supervisor Philip Barrett said. “But we’ll continue to look at what we can do as time progresses.”