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cellphone towers

One of the concerns Old Field Mayor Michael Levine and two trustees will face in the near future is whether or not to install a cellphone pole in Kaltenborn Commons. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

Residents of the Village of Old Field are asking the mayor and trustees, “Can you hear me now?”

The Keeper’s Cottage was filled to capacity Feb. 13 with residents and bordering neighbors expressing concerns over the proposed installation of a cellphone tower at Kaltenborn Commons, a small park located at the intersection of Old Field Road and Quaker Path and surrounded by homes. This is the second time both residents and nonresidents had the opportunity to speak and ask questions about the tower; the first opportunity being at a Jan. 9 public meeting.

A board vote to approve signing a lease with telecommunications tower site developer Elite Towers was not held during the meeting. Mayor Michael Levine said with the upcoming March 20 village elections, two new trustees would be starting in April, and the board agreed the new members should weigh in on the decision.

Former board member John Von Lintig, who lives directly across from the park, presented a petition signed by 100 residents who are against the installation of the cell tower.

“The opposition of the cellphone tower, or pole as you call it, is primarily based on aesthetic reasons, which tie very closely to the impact on real estate immediately in the vicinity of the tower,” Von Lintig said.

“The opposition of the cellphone tower, or pole as you call it, is primarily based on aesthetic reasons, which tie very closely to the impact on real estate immediately in the vicinity of the tower.”

— John Von Lintig

He cited the National Institute for Science, Law & Public Policy’s survey of 1,000 respondents on the impact of cell towers and antennas on real estate properties. He said according to the survey, 94 percent responded that cellphone towers or antennas in a neighborhood would impact their interest in a property and the price they would pay. Von Lintig said 79 percent answering the survey said under no circumstances would they buy a home within a few blocks from a tower or antenna. He said the decline of real estate prices can be anywhere between 2 and 20 percent.

John Damianos said when the land was granted to the village by Hans V. Kaltenborn in 1950 it was meant to be used for recreational purposes. He said the addition of the pole would turn it into a commercial facility.

“When I moved here there were many naturalists and environmentalists,” Damianos said. “A lot of people talked about Flax Pond and other places. They were strongly in favor of preserving natural spaces, open spaces, including this one.”

Jeff Schnee, who recently attended a board of trustees work session to discuss the technologic alternatives to a tower, said a better solution would be using distributed antenna systems. He said there is one in front of Ward Melville High School, and it consists of a 14- to 15-foot microwave antenna and a controlling box.

“[The phone companies] can put that in our neighborhood about every 20 poles in the areas that need it and that’s not intrusive,” Schnee said. “You don’t have to look at it, it doesn’t put out much power.”

Schnee asked if a cellphone tower was necessary with 5G technology, which uses millimeter waves and not microwaves, on the horizon. He said the technology uses receivers and transmitters, which would be every cellphone, Wi-Fi-enabled car and cable box. He said an area such as Old Field, where people buy the latest technology, would be perfect for 5G, and it’s possible it might be available in 2020.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Shybunko said after further research the board found that 5G would not replace 4G entirely as 5G does not penetrate walls and windows and therefore would not work well for voice transmission. Schnee said he believes more research needs to be done and said the debate on the potential of 5G could lead to the formation of a committee of residents who could research the topic before a decision is made about the tower.

Residents and nonresidents of Old Field attend the Feb. 13 public village meeting to express their concerns over the proposed installation of a cellphone tower in Kaltenborn Commons.

Physicist Oleg Gang said a committee would be ideal to also research potential health risks. The scientist handed out a sheet with a list of studies regarding the effects of cell towers on health. Gang showed a meter he used recently when near a comparable tower in Belle Terre. He said the measurements of radio frequency power near the tower — 100 feet to 0.3 mile — indicate RF radiation levels a few times higher than holding a cellphone to one’s ear 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Board members said they would be open to a committee comprised of Old Field residents. Levine reiterated what was covered at the last board meeting, that the lighthouse is not an option for the Village of Old Field to install a cellphone tower as the U.S. Coast Guard has not given approval. Also, if the village decides not to install a pole, there is still a chance that Stony Brook University will do so on its Sunwood Estate property as the university has filed a request for proposals to install a cellphone tower. If this occurs, the village would not have a say as to where the university installs it on the property and would not generate any revenue from the SBU pole.

Many residents in attendance said they would rather not have better cellphone service, or any service at all, if it negatively affects them and their neighbors in Setauket.

“I would rather pay higher taxes than shaft my neighbors down the road a mile and a half,” one resident said.

After the meeting, Von Lintig said he was optimistic and believed it makes sense to involve new board members in the process.

“As a former village trustee knowing most of the current members well, I believe they will take these concerns under serious consideration and do the right thing to preserve the bucolic nature of our village,” Von Lintig said.

Old Field residents, neighbors crowd village hall to express concerns over proposed tower in park

Residents and nonresidents of Old Field are protesting the proposed plan to install a cellphone tower on the grounds of the park known as Kaltenborn Commons saying it will be unaesthetic and create possible health consequences. Photo from the Village of Old Field website

A battle might be on the horizon over a proposed cellphone tower.

Before the Jan. 9 public board meeting in the Village of Old Field, residents living slightly outside the community’s borders received a letter simply signed “Concerned Neighbors.” A number of residents were alarmed to hear the village board was proposing the construction of a cellphone tower at a public park known by many as Kaltenborn Commons located at the intersection of Old Field Road and Quaker Path.

The letter writers asked residents of Old Field and surrounding streets to attend the monthly meeting to voice their concerns about health, economic and aesthetic issues. The agenda for the meeting included a presentation by Tanya Negron, founder of Elite Towers, a Long Island-based company that develops wireless telecommunications tower sites and is working on the Old Field project, to answer any questions.

A few dozen Old Field and Setauket residents crammed into the small Keeper’s Cottage that serves as the village’s meeting hall. Negron said the proposed tower, which is similar to the one on the bluff in Belle Terre, will have a 50-by-50-foot footprint. A stealth concealment pole, the slim structure will have cellphone carrier antennae inside, and the only antennae that would be outside are for emergency agencies, such as the fire department, if requested.

Elite Towers sketch for proposed cellphone tower in Old Field. Photo from John Coughlin

Negron said the area around it will be landscaped based on the village’s recommendations and no trees will be removed. The pole will be centralized within the property and set back from the road 132 feet on the west, 130 feet on the east and 160 feet to the south.

Many in attendance raised concerns and asked questions of the board members, with Mayor Michael Levine multiple times reminding participants to speak one at a time.

Former board member John Von Lintig said when he sat on the board for six years, the suggestion of installing a cellphone tower came up frequently. The conclusion was always that there was no suitable place to put it in the village without negatively affecting those around it.

“You put it right in the gateway of the village, and it is unconfirmed but with definitely possible health effects, it has possible economic effects on the homes immediately surrounding on resale, and it has aesthetic impact on people coming into the village seeing this thing,” Von Lintig said.

While a few in the room believed there are no health consequences in association with cellphone tower poles, one Setauket couple, who live across from the park, said they worry about potential health risks.

“We have three kids that are in that park daily,” Charles Catania said. “You can’t promise me or tell me there are no health consequences in connection with this pole.”

Oleg Gang, who works at Brookhaven National Laboratory, said he lives in close proximity to the proposed location. He said the savings in property taxes due to the revenue generated by the pole was negligible, and even with WiFi and an extender, it’s possible to improve an individual’s cellphone service at home.

Gang said board members need to research studies concerning the increase of various cancers and other disorders when living a certain distance from a tower, even if the conclusions are not definitive or there are debates.

“The bottom line is it’s not clear, but because it’s not clear, and there are so many technical solutions, and there is no benefit really from the tax point of view because it’s negligible, it’s really irresponsible to put it in the backyard of the people who will be suffering potentially five or 10 years getting cancer,” Gang said.

“We have three kids that are in that park daily. You can’t promise me or tell me there are no health consequences in connection with this pole.”

— Charles Catania

According to the website of the American Cancer Society, there is currently very little evidence to support the idea of cellphone towers increasing the risk of cancers or other health problems.

Many also said the tower will be aesthetically unappealing not only to nearby residents but to those considering buying a home in Old Field.

One resident who lives across from the park and considers the land historic said she found the board a bit smug toward those who didn’t live in the village.

“You are basically desecrating historic land by erecting this horrendous looking thing,” she said. “When we are in our yards, we are going to be laying in our pools or sitting in our lounge chairs looking at this freaking pole that is 130 feet tall. So all you’re saying, first of all comes across a little demeaning to us, and it’s not right at all. Secondly, it does affect our property values.”

She added that she spoke to a real estate agent who said home values can potentially drop 20 percent when such a pole is installed.

To address concerns regarding health issues and real estate prices dropping, Levine asked anyone who knows of experts in the fields to invite them to talk at future board meetings.

One resident in favor of the pole said it will generate tax revenue for the village and make the community more attractive to younger people who don’t use landlines.

“As I look around here, the average age of the person in this room is over 50,” he said. “Let me tell you something; your kids and my kids don’t use landlines, OK? They want cell coverage, and we don’t have decent cell coverage.”

Village lawyer Anthony Guardino said installing the pole would result in $40,000 capital at the outset and another $15,000 capital contribution for each canister that goes in the tower in village revenue. The village would also receive 40 percent of the rent stream from the first carrier, 45 percent from the second and 50 percent from any others.

Levine said if the village decides not to install a pole there is still a chance that Stony Brook University will do so on its Sunwood Estate property as the university has filed a request for proposals to install a cellphone tower, and the estate is one of the suggested locations. If this occurs, the village would not generate any revenue from the SBU pole.

Options were discussed at the meeting including installing the cellphone tower near the Old Field lighthouse. Levine said the location had been considered but the U.S. Coast Guard, which supervises the lighthouse, must approve it. While the village reached out to the Coast Guard, it did not receive a definitive answer.

Another subject of contention was the lack of notification for those who live right outside of Old Field who feel they will be affected. Others said even though they are residents, they were unaware of discussions about a cellphone tower. Levine and Village Clerk Adrienne Kessel reminded residents to sign up for email notifications, and they said the village posts meeting information on its website available to both residents and nonresidents. The mayor also said the village is not legally required to notify nonresidents but they are always welcome to attend the meetings.

Levine stressed that a lease agreement has not been signed yet, and the board will schedule one or two more meetings to hear from Old Field residents and its neighbors. The next public board meeting will be held Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. For more information visit www.oldfieldny.org.