Zoning board made the right (cell) call

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Main Road resident Betty Slade hit the nail on the head when she got up at Wednesday's zoning board of appeals hearing to talk about the proposed cell phone tower at Masquesatch and Drift roads, which she has long opposed:

"This is a historic area and not a Georgia golf course," she said.

It's a key point, and a local reality that cell phone tower contractors and carriers should bear in mind here and apply elsewhere. These companies think of communities in terms of coverage maps, saturation data and the number of bars that show up on a phone. Little regard is generally given to the other important numbers that might not be so easy to quantify: The proposed host community's aesthetic. The values that community holds and, through them, the way it stewards its land and protects its resources. Its history, and what people, like Westporters, hope the community will continue to be into the future.

Municipal Communications, which would have owned the massive tower and rented out space to carriers, gave short shrift to those realities and walked away empty-handed.

It didn't need to come to this. Throughout the months-long zoning review process that ended Wednesday evening, a host of residents, business owners and consultants argued that other, less invasive solutions exist. Additional space at Tripp's, a local church and a list of at last seven land owners who were interested in hosting smaller arrays were all offered as alternatives for study. All, according to zoning board members, were brushed off. It has to be at the spot we've selected, they said. It's got to be this height. It's got to be our way.

It doesn't.

All of this is not to say that Westporters have no desire for improved service and coverage; undoubtedly many do, and we agree that service could and should be better.

But benefits must be weighed against costs. The zoning board's 4-1 repudiation of the Masquesatch tower was a crystal clear statement that the bill Municipal Communications put on the table wasn't worth paying.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.