A hearing on an application to install 12 AT&T antennas on the face of a 180,000-gallon oil tank at P.C. Schenck and Sons at 60 Newtown Lane drew alarm from neighboring property owners after a lengthy presentation at Friday’s meeting of the East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals.
The antennas as well as six cabinets housing telecommunications equipment on a concrete pad on the ground require setback variances from the village code. They are intended to increase coverage for AT&T’s cellphone subscribers. It is proposed to locate them 23 feet from one property line, where the required setback is 100 feet, and between 20 and 33 feet from the easterly line, where setbacks range from 40 to 44 feet. Though they would extend no higher than the oil tank itself, a variance is also required for their height.
Along with John Huber, an attorney for the applicant, a team of consultants provided detailed testimony about the project. As a public utility, Mr. Huber said, the applicant is entitled to bypass some of the criteria for variances. He said the facility would be installed in the least visually obtrusive manner.
The proposed antennas, in four groups of three, would be painted to blend with the fuel tank, Erin Echevarria of Hauppauge-based VHB Engineering told the board. She displayed photographic simulations and asserted there would be no significant impact. The facility would be unmanned and remotely monitored, she said, so there would be no sewage generated and minimal traffic.
Frank Newbold, the board’s chairman, asked Mike Patel, of Tectonic Engineering in Newburgh, N.Y., if the installation would make noise. Mr. Patel said the equipment generates heat, as personal computers do, but added that the cabinets’ manufacturer measures 65 decibels at five feet, which he likened to the conversation he and Mr. Newbold were having.
One criterion for a special permit, Mr. Newbold said, “is whether the proposed use will cause disturbing emissions or electrical discharges,” mentioning the proximate businesses, residences, and the East Hampton Middle School. “I know if I were a resident nearby I’d want more information about that,” he said.
Mr. Huber also summarized language in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which he said “pre-empts state and local government regulation of the placement, construction, and modification of wireless service facilities on the basis of environmental effects of radio frequency emission, so long as the facility complies with the Federal Communications Commission regulations. This site will comply.”
With that, he introduced Stephane Guillabert, a radio frequency engineer representing AT&T, David Collins of the Pinnacle Telecom Group in Cedar Knolls, N.J., who testified that the radio frequency energy fields at the site would be only 3.1 percent of what the F.C.C. allows, or the equivalent of that produced by a refrigerator, and Michael Lynch of Lynch Appraisal of Huntington, who said the installation would not have “any deleterious effect on surrounding properties” or their value.
Christopher Minardi, a board member, asked if there would be a need for additional sites for such equipment, and was told by Mr. Guillabert that “there is always a need for a new site due to the growing demands of the customers.”
Mr. Huber noted that cellphone service here is limited by the lack of tall structures. A lattice tower near East Hampton Town Hall and the steeple of the East Hampton Presbyterian Church are used for antennas. “There is indeed a need for enhanced coverage in the community,” he said. “The primary goal is always to find the most architecturally consistent way to do it.”
Some took a different view. Arthur Purcell of Barns Lane told board members they should consider that the proposed site is near residential properties both on his street and on Huntting Avenue, as well as near the middle school.
“There are still some questions about the possibility that there could be some radiation coming forth from this structure,” Mr. Purcell said. “We already live on the site with the oil tank there, and that’s a major concern for some people. . . . I think an oil tank and a cell tower adjacent to the Long Island Rail Road raise some questions.”
Toni Ann Warren, representing the owners of 66 Newtown Lane, a complex of shops and offices, asked if AT&T would sell some of its antenna space to Verizon or T-Mobile, and if that would increase the emanation of radio frequencies and the consequent need for more cooling fans. “Is this an opening for an increase in the size of antennas once you give this variance?” she asked. Noise from the fans is a concern for the businesses and offices at 66 Newtown Lane, she said.
The proposed antennas, she said, would be at the same height as 66 Newtown Lane’s second-floor windows, which are operable. “There are a lot of studies that claim health issues and carcinogens. . . . We have second-floor offices; we have a second-floor middle school. What’s that going to do to our kids?”
Finally, Joseph Lambiase, who recently purchased the property at 19 Barns Lane, said, “I’m going to be the lucky one that’s going to hear these fans go on and off.” The applicant, he said, “must meet minimal setback of 100 feet. . . . If this was very important to them, they could . . . make other arrangements. They don’t need to jam it right on a property line.”
Mr. Lambiase also asked if the oil tank was triple-walled. The answer was that it is believed to be a single-wall tank, and Mr. Guillabert said the antennas would be welded to it. During installation, Mr. Lambiase argued that “if they were able to break that tank, which is possible when you’re welding . . . that area would be completely wiped out. It would be worthless. I don’t know why the community needs to take this risk.” If the need is legitimate, he said, “Put a triple-wall tank in and a fire-extinguisher system built into it. I am completely opposed.”
Mr. Newbold asked Mr. Huber to return to the Z.B.A. on Jan. 24 to answer the concerns expressed. He also ssaid the Z.B.A. would have its engineering expert review the testimony.