Imagine you're a public official in a town where 99.9 percent
of the people think having cellular telephone service is really
important. Imagine after much water under the bridge and lots
of wasted time, people finally come to understand they're
not going to get cell service until one thing happens first:
the town adopts a law that makes it possible to get towers
built. This isn't something peculiar to us, it's just something
towns have to do. So one day a supervisor assembles a committee
which includes the town's Planning and Zoning Board chairs,
the town's ZEO, a telecommunications executive from Phoenicia,
an RF engineer from Shokan, and a cell-system designer from
Highmount, all working together under one of the region's
top planners who happens to have written a book on writing
cell tower laws. No lightweights here and no politics. These
people did a hell of a good job.
They worked for 7 months. They started with 3 of the best
laws they could find, chose Marbletown's as a guide, and they
drafted a law for Shandaken. Almost a year ago, they finished.
They sent copies to every town board, planning board, and
zoning board member, plus the town's counsel and the County
Planning Board. The Town's attorney - a very good one, Paul
Kellar - approved it, with only very minor changes. Then the
County Planning Board - also a very good one under Dennis
Doyle - also approved it, with again, very minor changes.
The draft law was DONE, ready to go to public hearing and
be enacted 30 days later. But by then it was November, and
so the outgoing supervisor handed it off to the incoming one,
with an assumption shared by just about everyone that by this
past February we'd have our law on the books, and we could
finally get down to business with the wireless providers.
Winter came and went, Spring, Summer∑with more and more
people asking both each other and sometimes Supervisor Cross
"what's going on with the cell tower law?"
Then four months ago Cross began talking about forming a new
cell tower committee, though he wouldn't and still hasn't
answered the question, "why do we need one?" Finally
after two months of being asked by the press, the answer came
out at July's town board meeting, though not from Cross. It
came from councilwoman Jane Todd:
"I found something in there that says you can't build
cell towers," she announced.
O-kay then. That WOULD be a big problem for a law whose whole
point is to get them built. And we think it's great when a
town board member proves a keener legal read on an issue than
our county's formidable head planner, our industry experts,
or the best lawyers we can hire. So what exactly IS the problem?
Well, we'd like to tell you but we just don't know.
It's still, apparently, some kind of town government secret,
and Cross and Todd simply refuse to say when asked, what it
IS that's wrong with Shandaken's draft cell tower law, and
why they've now appointed a whole new committee to start over
Nope, we don't understand it either, unless the answer's so
cynical and so political it just hasn't occurred to those
of us who aren't wired that way. But what would YOU do, if
you were the one who found a fatal flaw in some proposed law,
which none of the experts who drafted or reviewed it ever
picked up on? Well, there is commonly accepted procedure.
You take a pen and you underline the passage, or maybe you
circle it with a big question mark in the margin. And then
you fax it to the town's attorney. Maybe the guy's out to
lunch or gone for the day. So maybe it takes two days, a week
even. And then, after you talk, you either delete the questionable
sentence or whatever, or you FIX it. And then you get on with
the town's business, which in this case is enacting a law
so we can get some cell towers built.
What you DON'T do, not if the goal is to get cell service
here, is what Cross and Todd have been doing on this since
the day they took office in January, or in Todd's case, since
the previous September. You don't knowingly sit on a solvable
problem - assuming it really exists - for the
better part of a year, while the whole community waits for
a dial tone. Our town NEEDS a cell tower law, and we
HAVE a cell tower law, maybe one of the best, most business-friendly
ones anywhere. It opens up more, and more relevant parts
of the town for siting towers than our current zoning law
permits, and it doesn't outlaw or restrict any kind or height
of tower from being proposed. But it does make it vastly easier
to get permits for the kinds of towers people actually find
acceptable and are now the norm in most communities - steath
and semi-concealed designs like pine trees, flagpoles, and
so on. In fact the whole point of the thing is to make it
as close to hassle-free for the carriers as possible, to put
up the kind of towers people want, while eliminating any prospect
for lawsuits or delay. The thing is written to WORK, and you
can read it for yourself at www.phoeniciatimes.com.
What we need to do NOW is to take the draft law to a public
hearing and pass it, sure, with whatever last-minute changes
it might need, but pass it, and then to go work on getting
the towers we need. What we DON'T need is another committee
of political appointees, and another season of town politics
slowing down the fulfillment of our community's needs.
What's most troubling to us though is that all of this isn't
some series of errors, this is Bob Cross' idea of a
plan. We haven't a clue as to what that plan might be. But
this isn't just dropping the ball. It's kicking it into a
storm drain. It's time to go fish it out, put our cell tower
law back in play, and stop jerking the town around with yet
another round of political appointments. Enough already. People
are getting very tired of it. And they're owed an explanation.