Anticipating cellular towers, Bovina may overhaul town regs

By Matthew J. Perry
The Bovina Planning Board is reviewing laws from other municipalities in Delaware County to prepare for the possibility of cell tower construction inside its borders. With input from Delaware County Planning Board consultant Justin Shaw, the board reviewed its own existing zoning regulations on Monday night, in addition to poring over details from laws that have been passed or drafted in the towns of Kortright and Meredith.
“At any moment we could be approached [by a communications company], so we should give the town board something to work with,” said board member Chris Ingvordsen.
Height restrictions for towers were a primary concern for the board. Towers 200-feet tall or higher are required by federal law to be lighted, a feature that would likely stir up loud resistance in a community protective of its bucolic views. It was noted that Meredith had suggested towers of 160 feet, but had been told by telecommunication representatives that this height would not allow transmissions for multiple carriers, which could result in more towers being constructed. At 199 feet, a tower could remain unlit, reserve the tower peak for municipal transmissions, such as EMT and 911 signals, and provide space for two or three carriers.
The board also stressed the importance of clauses requiring liability insurance, visual impact assessments, balloon studies, and bonds for performance and decommission. A performance bond offers protection against construction that is abandoned before completion, while a decommission clause protects a municipality from being stuck with the cost of dismantling and removing structures that are no longer operated.
Ingvordsen noted that Bovina had learned about the value of such protective clauses during the town’s debate over wind turbines. “We need to think 20 years ahead. You have to know who pays when [a structure] is ready to come down.” Such clauses can set the price of removal much higher than the present cost as an adjustment against inflation.
The board found many of these issues addressed in the Meredith and Kortright regulations, and suggested that elements of both be used to create a hybrid model tailored to Bovina’s needs and concerns. Whether the details will be fleshed out by amending special permits procedures and zoning regulations, or by writing a law specifically for cell tower construction, remained an open question at the meeting. Shaw noted that many of the key elements of protection are already written into the zoning regulations, but a carefully worded law could be a plainer, more forceful document.
The debate over regulations pertinent to cell tower construction is part of a larger effort by the planning board to review, update and clarify the larger body of Bovina’s ordinances, including aspects of zoning, the comprehensive plan and special permit issues. Since several neighboring towns are in negotiations with telecommunications giants for towers, the planning board’s efforts may well prove to be timely.