Sprint Cell Phone Tower for Larchmont Village Hall?

by Judy Silberstein

(April 21, 2005) After three years of on-again, off-again negotiations, the Village of Larchmont and Sprint Spectrum appear to be closing in on a deal for a new cell phone tower behind Village Hall. Four Sprint consultants – an attorney, two engineers and a site acquisition expert – were at the Village Board meeting on Monday, April 18 to literally walk board members through the details of the proposed project. The meeting adjourned from the courtroom to the backyard for a look at the site where Sprint proposes to replace an existing tower for the Larchmont Fire Department antenna with a more robust version capable of hosting equipment for up to two cell phone providers plus the LFD.

Sprint’s attorney, David Snyder, outlined the benefits of the new tower, including eliminating gaps in coverage and producing rental income for the village. Sprint is proposing to erect and maintain the tower at its own expense, while paying a monthly rent of $2500. There is room for a second carrier, which would presumably pay a comparable amount in rent. Sprint would also provide a new antenna for the Larchmont Police Department.

Sprint tower proposal

Graphic supplied by Sprint shows current antennae tower and proposed cell phone tower and equipment shed behind Village Hall on the side adjacent to Constitution Park.

As proposed, the new tower would be the same height as the existing one in use by the fire department – 80 feet - but would sit on a larger concrete pad and would be two or three times as heavy and as wide. In response to board questions about the bulk of the proposed tower, Jason Smolinksy, Sprint’s structural engineering consultant, appeared open to substituting a structure that, though larger than the existing tower, would be narrower than the proposed one. Sprint would also erect a 10 by 20-foot low-rising brick shelter to house 4 refrigerator-sized cabinets filled with gear necessary to operate the equipment and provide backup battery power. A second cell phone company would require a similarly sized shelter for its equipment.

Graphic supplied by Sprint shows one proposal for a new tower; a more tapered tower is being considered.

What’s the downside? The current structure is barely visible to passersby; the new one would be more noticeable. Visual impact would be important, said Trustee Marlene Kolbert. “That’s what we would be dealing with, “ she said. Trustee Anne McAndrews was concerned about pranksters climbing the proposed tower. Rhoan Gordon, Sprint’s wireless engineering consultant, replied that Sprint has not experienced those sorts of problems except in some rural locations.

How about radiation? Mayor Bialo wanted the public to hear Sprint's position. Mr. Snyder and Mr. Gordon indicated the tower would conform to all health and safety regulations. The engineer explained: the equipment emits less wattage than your average light bulb, 16 watts at 80 feet, which degrades to less than 1 billionth of a watt by the time it reaches the ground. The system operates using very low radio frequencies and new very sensitive technology capable of detecting the low levels, he said. The transmitter reaches a relatively small area – one-half to three-quarters to a mile in radius. Sprint already has equipment at the Town of Mamaroneck's Department of Public Works and the Village of Mamaroneck's Harbor Island Park (where the tower serves as a flag pole.)

Other communities have experienced opposition to cell phone towers based on citizens' concerns for safety, particularly when the antennae would be near residences or schools. Sprint originally proposed placing the tower near Chatsworth School – an idea that was dropped. Like other municipalities, Larchmont will have to weigh a number of factors, including the existing scientific evidence (the World Health Organization summary is a frequently quoted source), state and federal regulations that limits local control over wireless communication, and demand for cell phone services.

Would the new tower do anything about the dead zone on Weaver Street? asked Michelle Doud, who was at the board meeting to work out further details of the May 7 Pet Parade. Mr. Brown suggested Weaver Street presented unique challenges and resolutions had yet to be found.

At the end of the question period, Mr. Snyder expressed hope that a deal could be struck quickly. He had been charged by his client to “bring it home.”

The Village of Larchmont doesn’t operate quite like that, replied Mayor Bialo. Instead, he suggested the board take up the issue again at its May 5 meeting, allowing time for residents to study details that will appear in the media and on presentation boards to be erected at Village Hall. Meantime, Mr. Snyder will continue to work out details with Larchmont’s attorney, Jim Staudt.