By Robin Jovanovich

One year ago, the City Council was ready to approve an application from Crown Castle on behalf of Verizon Wireless to install 64 additional DAS (distributed antenna system) nodes to remedy “a significant coverage gap” and ensure that individuals, business, and emergency services would have “reliable” wireless communication service. Mayor Joe Sack went so far as to write a column in a local newspaper encouraging the plan because upgrades were needed. But upon learning the news, and encouraged by Councilmember Emily Hurd to participate in the public process, residents were quick to voice their opposition to the plan, primarily because many of those nodes would be installed in the residential right-of-way, right in their front yards. And if the application were approved, every other wireless provider would follow and have the right to install even more.

A citizen’s committee that began last June with two, Josh Cohn and Trish Agosta, quickly became dozens. They networked and hired their own consultants. Soon, over 1,100 residents signed a petition to protect residential Rye. Over the course of a year, more and more residents have done their research, read public documents, pored over cellular coverage maps, found out what other communities have done when a wireless provider made a similar application. (Several towns have voted to prohibit DAS nodes in rights-of-way and the applicant has moved on.) What most Rye residents now understand is that the unit’s internal cooling fans make them noisy, above noise levels in the City Code. (One resident compared the noise to having a dishwasher next to your bedroom.) Homeowners also discovered that property values suffer when poles and boxes line residential neighborhoods.

During public hearings, residents have asked for alternatives to minimize the visual and community character-changing impact: stealth towers; installing units on existing facilities and on or near commercial areas and on public buildings; and reducing the total number of units. They’ve also made a strong case that technology is changing so quickly that what’s installed today will be outmoded.

To date there have been 14 public meetings, two public coffees, and, on Monday night, a special Council meeting to discuss proposed amendments to the City Code regarding noise, placement of permanent facilities in the rights-of-way, and wireless telecommunications facilities. Deputy Mayor Julie Killian, presiding at the special meeting, began the discussion by noting that, “It’s complicated.”

At the Council’s regular meeting Wednesday night, after more input from Corporation Counsel Kristen Wilson and Joe Van Eaton, the attorney hired by the City to advise them on the application, and Chris Fisher, attorney for the applicant, Mayor Sack closed the public hearing. “We’re at a decision point,” said the mayor. “We don’t want the last year to be for naught.”

After a short executive session and before the Council was ready to vote yea, nay, or defer, Ms. Wilson went over SEQRA impacts. (The City declared itself the lead agency many months back.) In regard to the 18 major areas of possible impact, she cited three of concern: aesthetic, noise, and community character. “The potential 7-cubic-foot boxes — 8 feet off the ground, every 500 feet in the public right-of-way — may be visible from public vantage points, seasonally and year-round. The 3 ion boxes [Verizon’s current plan is for 2 ion boxes but as Mr. Van Eaton noted, they can increase the size of boxes anytime] produce noise above City ordinance levels. The nodes are inconsistent with the community character.”

When it was time to make a resolution, Councilmember Hurd read out one that included a positive SEQRA declaration (adverse impact). As Ms. Wilson explained, “That sets the stage for continuing the environmental review process. It allows the City Council to look at alternatives.”

The Council voted 6-0 (Councilmember Terry McCartney was absent) to approve the resolution, and will vote on Crown Castle’s request to amend the right-of-way resolution at their special meeting on Saturday (the annual joint meeting with the Board of Education before the Little League Parade).

It’s the bottom of the ninth and it looks like were headed into extra innings.