Editorial: Cell tower — Listen to the neighbors

Posted 5/21/21

To justify enabling a towering eyesore in the midst of a historic district, granting wild deviations from town zoning, and infuriating most everybody who lives there, a project would need to be …

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Editorial: Cell tower — Listen to the neighbors

Posted

To justify enabling a towering eyesore in the midst of a historic district, granting wild deviations from town zoning, and infuriating most everybody who lives there, a project would need to be mighty crucial to the public good indeed.

The AT&T cell tower proposed for Westport Point is not that project, not even close.

Seldom has a proposal inspired such near-universal loathing as the steel tower that would be built at the quiet corner of Drift and Masquesatch roads. Residents by the dozen have lined up to speak out against the tower at remote zoning meetings; many more have signed petitions and letters.

A tower of this sort, with its chain link fence topped by razor wire, would be jarring in this residential agricultural zone, a place of centuries-old farmhouses and sea captains’ homes.

At better than 150 feet tall, it would loom over its surroundings — height limits were built into zoning for good reason.

There’d be no escaping this too-tall intruder from another era — even with its faux fir tree disguise. From up and down Route 88, from Drift Road, from the old cemetery, from just about everywhere, this industrial construction would stand in contradiction to everything that people have striven to preserve in this special place.

That is unfortunate, say the tower’s proponents, but federal communications rules insist that towns provide access to adequate cellular signals, never mind what local zoning says. It’s a matter of public safety.

Perhaps, but other carriers have managed to provide decent signal strength in creative ways. One provider stuck an antenna atop the flagpole at Tripp’s Boatyard. Next door in Little Compton, one was installed in a church steeple. And much as the applicant insists otherwise, there are other locations available on higher ground in less obtrusive places that could hold smaller towers.

Technology has improved since mammoth towers were the only way to spread cellular signals. New methods, neighborhood scale antennae are taking the place of big towers, meaning that this one might be well on its way to obsolete even before it is built.

As for public safety, both the police and fire chiefs say they are quite satisfied with the communications system they are presently using.

And, frankly, the argument that AT&T customers who visit Horseneck Beach are hard-pressed to find a cell signal is less than compelling. If the state is concerned about that (and if playing with the cell phone is really such a vital part of a day at the beach), a modest antenna at the Horseneck State Reservation would do nicely.

Cell service could and should be better in this part of town, but not at this price, say most who have commented. This proposal seems less about some sort of cellular emergency than the prospect of a making a tidy profit by renting out tower space, all made possible by stretching zoning beyond its limits.

There are better places, better methods to deliver a proper signal to south Westport than this monstrosity. 

2021 by East Bay Newspapers

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Meet our staff
Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.