Smithtown cell tower proposal gets poor reception

Smithtown cell tower proposal gets poor reception

Smithtown United Civic Association calls for further review; town promises to consider environmental study

The approximate location for a proposed 120-foot cellphone tower at 300 West Main Street. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A proposal for a 120-foot cellphone tower off West Main Street in Smithtown is getting bad reception from some residents.

The antenna, proposed by Deer Park-based Elite Towers, would be installed at 300 West Main St., behind the Mobile gas station across from a Stop & Shop plaza. Elite Tower said its aim is to strengthen the service for AT&T and Verizon customers in the town.

The company claims the tower, for which a special permit application was originally filed in 2015, would help eliminate a cellular “dead zone” in the vicinity, where weak signals are expected and phone calls are considered dangerously unreliable, according to its proposal. Any calls made to 911 and other emergency responders have run the risk of being bounced across the Long Island Sound and being rerouted to Connecticut.

Greg Alvarez, an attorney representing Elite Towers, asked town council members to approve a special exception permit to place a public telecommunications facility on the site at the Jan. 25 town board meeting. Alvarez said that in the future, the pole could also be utilized by other mobile carriers. Following the presentation, members from Smithtown United Civic Association called for a further review of the cellphone tower.

We have to acknowledge there’s clearly a gap in cellphone coverage in the area, but we’re just questioning the magnitude of what they’re looking to construct.”
— Tim Small

“We have significant concerns about the impact on the character of the town,” civic president Tim Small said, after a meeting with Alvarez and Elite Towers Feb. 27.

Small said reducing the overall height of the cellphone tower was among the main topics of discussion, but did not debate the need for one.

“This is such a huge structure,” he said. “We have to acknowledge there’s clearly a gap in cellphone coverage in the area, but we’re just questioning the magnitude of what they’re looking to construct. Why not cut it down from 120 feet to 60 feet?”

Small said he understands that the taller the tower is, the better the cell service is in “dark spots” in town. But the civic president  believes the centralized technology they’re using can and should be reduced to minimize the impact.

“We had some questions concerning density and some of the numbers they’re using for impacted customers and areas that they couldn’t answer,” he said. “So they’re going to go back and look at some of their analysis, how it was done, so they can better communicate to us how those numbers were created.

Elite Towers shared graphical displays alleging that the 120-foot tower would benefit approximately 9,000 customers and more than 500 area businesses, according to Small.

“There’s still a lot more work that needs to be done here before it’s approved,” he said. “We’re still opposed to the tower as it currently stands.”

During a Feb. 22 town board meeting, Smithtown resident Jonathan Arzt said he was worried the structure would become the first thing people see when entering town.

“My opinion is that Smithtown should not look more like an industrial park,” Arzt said. “We want to attract visitors and new residents here but I don’t think a 120-foot cell tower is the kind of revitalization vision that we have for this town in the future.”

Al Gengler, of St. James, said he lives down the road from a cell tower in Head of the Harbor and, yet, his cell signal is weak when he’s inside his house.

My opinion is that Smithtown should not look more like an industrial park.”
— Jonathan Arzt

“I think a lot of people have the wool being pulled over their eyes that this is the answer — I don’t think it’s the answer,” Gengler said. “You can go lots of places and there could be a gigantic tower, but if you’re in the valley, you’re not going to get a signal.”

He asked the town board to provide data backing up the tower’s effectiveness.

“I don’t know where to get that information as it’s not readily available online,” Gengler said. “It would be nice to be able to look at that data and the specifics, rather than [rely] on hearsay.”

Following the meeting, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said that an environmental impact survey will be conducted “to determine if there will be any negative effects of the cell tower on the health of both our residents and the wildlife.” He further added that, “The attorney for the company has asked us to give them a month before we vote on the impact survey.”

The town has also received calls from other companies with alternative solutions to improving cellphone service that, they claim has no impact on the environment, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. She said the town board will hear all parties and explore all options they are presented with.

One Smithtown resident, Diane Caroll, voiced her support of the proposed tower during the meeting, saying she’s had enough of living in a town where she can’t get cell service.

Corey Geske, of Smithtown, said it would “represent a death knell” for the area, in an email read to the board. He raised concerns over potential cancer risks from living near transmission tower sites and high-tension wires, urging the board to vote against it.

“To approve such a tower across from Stop & Shop, a chief destination for Kings Park and Smithtown residents when shopping for a loaf of bread, is to put the general population at risk for their health,” Geske wrote.