School Questions Antennas

Attorney for East Hampton School Board asks for more time to review Schenck-AT&T plan

Until an attorney for the East Hampton School Board stepped in, it appeared on Friday that a decision was imminent on P.C. Schenck and Sons’ application to install AT&T antennas and ground-based equipment at its oil distribution facility on Newtown Lane in East Hampton Village.

The application had already been discussed at three previous zoning board of appeals meetings, and on Friday, the applicant’s attorney announced additional modifications to the plan that he said would mitigate noise generated by the proposed ground-based equipment cabinets, about which nearby property owners had voiced concern.

The size of a proposed concrete pad on which the equipment cabinets would be situated would be reduced by a third, to 12.6 by 32 feet, said John Huber, an attorney for the applicant. With the reduction, no part of the pad would lie within the required 30-foot transitional yard setback, he said. A sound barrier would be increased from 8 to 12 feet in height, reducing noise at adjacent neighbors’ property to a measurement below the ambient level of 44 decibels. The sound barrier would be lined on its eastern side with cedar planking for aesthetic purposes, Mr. Huber said.

In discussions with Drew Bennett, a consulting engineer for the village, it was agreed that, as a condition of the board’s approval, a sound-level measurement would be taken once the facility is operational, Mr. Huber said.

Given the number of appearances he and Mike Patel, a consultant to AT&T, have made before the board, coupled with the fact that the proceedings are televised and have been reported in The Star, “I believe the public is very well aware of the matters we’ve discussed,” Mr. Huber said. Residents, he said, “have had ample opportunity to appear and speak to the issues.”

When Frank Newbold, the board’s chairman, asked if anyone else would like to be heard, Kevin Seaman, the school board’s attorney, walked to the dais. The proposed installation, he said, is an extension of a nonconforming use and should be held to a higher threshold of review and consideration.

The school board’s concern, he said, is for the East Hampton Middle School on Newtown Lane, near the Schenck facility. The applicant has not made the case that public safety issues have been resolved, he said, suggesting that adverse impacts from noise and “disturbing emissions of electrical discharges” have not been addressed, nor has it been shown that property values will not be impacted.

Linda Riley, the village attorney, told Mr. Seaman of a “somewhat unusual provision in our code” that authorizes the zoning board to grant a special permit for the extension or alteration of an existing nonconforming use. It is up to the board to decide whether or not the application meets the standards for granting such an extension, she said.

Mr. Huber said the board should base its determination on whether the applicant has shown a need for its facility. Based on relevant criteria — gaps in service, the remedy that the proposed installation would provide, and its minimal intrusion on the community — the application should be granted, he said.

The school board “would like the opportunity to challenge the issue of a gap in coverage,” Mr. Seaman countered. And, he said, “We think there would be an intrusion” on neighboring properties.

Christopher Minardi, a zoning board member, said that many people have expressed concern about emissions from the antennas and their potential adverse impact on health.

“We can’t consider that,” Ms. Riley said. “Federal law precludes this board from basing a determination or any consideration on that,” assuming it meets federal standards.

“We’re aware there’s a large amount of public concern,” Mr. Newbold said, citing proximity to the school, adjacent residences, and the commercial building at 66 Newtown Lane. “We want to make sure we have all the facts so we can form a fully informed opinion.”

The board of education, Mr. Huber said, “has had more than ample opportunity to evaluate the substantial evidence that’s been presented.” Nonetheless, the hearing was left open to be revisited at the board’s April 25 meeting.