Smithtown, N.Y., Orders Cell Tower Project Environmental Study

The company behind the project says it is the missing piece of the area’s coverage puzzle, but the town council is waiting for the study before making a decision.

by Nicholas Spangler, Newsday / March 7, 2018

(TNS) — The Smithtown Town Council on Tuesday ordered that an environmental impact study must be conducted before it will vote on an application for a cellphone tower on West Main Street across from Stop & Shop.

The proposed location for the 120-foot tower is a commercial parcel less than a third of a mile east of the Nissequogue River.

An impact study typically covers a broad range of possible effects of development on both wildlife and nearby human communities. It could add months or years to a review process that began in 2015. In public comments minutes after the council’s 5-0 vote to require the study, Greg Alvarez, an attorney for Deer Park-based developer Elite Towers, called the wait “patently unfair for commercial applicants to this town looking to redevelop in the area.”

Russell Barnett, the town’s Department of Environment and Waterways director, disputed that characterization in an interview following the council meeting. The applicant, not town government, is responsible for providing information necessary to complete an application, he said. “The applicant is in control of how long that takes.”

Elite is seeking a special exception from the council to house equipment for Verizon Wireless and New Cingular Wireless at the 300 E. Main St. site. The proposal does not meet several zoning requirements, including one limiting structures in the area to 35 feet.

Alvarez has said that the tower is the best remedy for a gap in cellphone coverage in the area that can result in dropped calls and in 911 calls being erroneously routed to Connecticut. Skeptical neighbors have complained that the tower would be an eyesore in the environmentally sensitive area around the river.

DEW staffers earlier this month recommended that the town council require the impact study. Staffers based their recommendation on reasons having to do with the dangers of a pole collapse and the potential for “significant adverse visual impacts.” They also warned that Elite might not have considered less intrusive solutions, including alternative locations or technologies, before making its application.

Alvarez and a lawyer for New Cingular said that earlier reviews had already addressed most of those concerns.

They also said that they hadn’t been given access to the DEW memo, written March 6. Barnett countered that the town was following long-standing practice in not releasing internal town communications.

A DEW staffer discussed the contents of the memo with the lawyers in a “lengthy” meeting last week, he said. Town officials released the memo late Tuesday afternoon.

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