The Mini Cell Towers Become a Maxi Threat for Rye Homeowners

Close to 700 residents have signed a petition in protest of the application by Crown Castle, on behalf of Verizon Wireless, to erect 64 mini cell towers, 55 of them in the right of way on residential properties.


By Robin Jovanovich


Close to 700 residents have signed a petition in protest of the application by Crown Castle, on behalf of Verizon Wireless, to erect 64 mini cell towers, 55 of them in the right of way on residential properties. To-date, however, the City Council, other than Councilwoman Emily Hurd, appears unmoved by the community response.


At the Council’s last meeting, September 14, Crown Castle’s attorney, Chris Fisher, defended the plan, citing the need to improve cell service to keep up with transformative technological change that will aid “police doing background checks, first responders.”


Meanwhile, three residents have retained legal counsel. They and hundreds more would like the City to either reject the plan, which many have described as “an assault on the community,” start from scratch, or at least consider alternatives.


“Is there another town in Westchester that is as saturated with these mini towers as Rye would be?” asked Ridgewood Drive resident Trish Agosta.


The impact on property values cannot be dismissed, said Kate Khanna. National studies show this, as does the recent survey in Rye. Fellow Forest Avenue resident Charlotte Hansen, who holds a Ph.D. in Finance and has done a lot of statistical analysis, showed the Council the results of the survey in which Rye residents were asked to participate. Of the 273 residents who filled out the survey, 97 percent were homeowners, 94 percent said they received data through WiFi, and 94 percent said they would walk away from buying a house near a cell tower. “Distance to cell towers matters to home values,” stressed Hansen.


Councilman Richard Mecca, who noted there are eight existing nodes in Rye, asked: “Have property values been impacted?”


Kate Emanuel, a realtor with Coldwell Banker and a resident of Sharon Lane, had a ready response. “We’re at a critical juncture as a community. There have been 109 closed home sales this year. Buyers come here for the schools, the small-town feel. Thirty to 50 percent of them will not even go near a house near a cell node. There is nothing charming about a cell node.” She added, “We’re not just talking about 73 homes being affected by these towers. Every neighboring house will be affected, too.”


“Instead of hiring attorneys,” Emanuel continued, “shouldn’t we be coming up with alternatives?”


Former City Councilwoman Carolyn Cunningham, co-author of Chapter 196, the City’s Wireless Telecommunications Facilities law, enacted in 1998, said the law was adopted to “prevent the impact of cell towers. We got a lot of expert help. We knew then that the community didn’t want proliferation of these devices, and we also knew we could have a say in their location — anywhere else but residential neighborhoods.”


The law is clear, and its definition sufficient to cover the Crown Castle application, stated Cunningham.


“To make sure Chapter 196 was used, we put in a section on waivers. I do believe the City has the right not to approve every version proposed. I fervently believe this Council should not go forward with Crown Castle.” She added, “When we wrote the law, we assumed a loss of property values. We now know it’s the case.”


Dan Richmond of Zarin & Steinmetz, the firm representing three Rye residents fighting the application, said it would be a “derogation of land-use authority” to approve the Crown Castle plan. “This is an opportunity for the City to reestablish its authority. The Council could consider whether larger towers could be installed, and explore all other alternatives consistent with protecting residents.”


Ben Stacks and his wife Kim O’Connor of Sonn Drive came to the podium as a “follow up to the letter they’d sent to the Council on September 6” to which they’d yet to receive a response.


They have lived with cell tower equipment on their property since 2011, when they returned home to find an installer putting an antenna on a pole in the right of way in their backyard. After being referred to the City Council and told that neither they nor the City could stop the installation, they didn’t pursue the issue. “We believed ourselves stuck with an ugly and noisy addition to our house,” said Stacks.


But, this summer, after hearing about the Crown Castle’s application, they attended the August 3 Council meeting, “where we honestly sat in horror learning of the plan to increase the amount of these antennas… We saw that most people didn’t realize that the mechanical unit attached to the pole has a cooling fan, which runs constantly in the summer. It can be heard over most of our backyard.”


Stacks invited all members of the Council “to come to our house to experience the effect this antenna has on the quiet enjoyment of our home and property.” He then made a different proposition. “For those of you, if any, that support installation of the antennas – we have a proposal – let’s swap – we will give you the one on our property and you can put it on yours – do we have any takers?”


Is the Council “okay with cell towers on residential properties?” Councilwoman Hurd was the only one willing to say, “I am not.” 


The public hearing was continued until the next meeting, October 5.


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