When the Manchester Selectboard and Manchester Planning Commission decided on May 2 that they could not support locating a communications tower on Side Road, just off Depot Street, they made the right decision.
A letter from those two boards to the Public Utility Commission, sent last week, sums up the boards’ reasoning. The PUC should consider it carefully and, if AT&T proceeds with its proposal, likewise find that the proposed site is not suitable for a 140-foot tower or the infrastructure that comes with it.
Saying no wasn’t a difficult decision for the Selectboard and Planning Commission. The May 2 hearing, moved to the Manchester Community Library to accommodate more residents, turned out nearly unanimous opposition to the plan based on several factors.
Some said the aesthetic impact of a 140-foot tower on the natural landscape Manchester has worked hard to protect was unacceptable. Others voiced concerns about the potential health impacts of radio frequency radiation for residents and nearby workers, despite assurances that it would be within federal limits. Some noted that the town enacted a town plan and land use ordinance limiting the placement of such infrastructure for good reasons that should not be ignored.
We live in a world increasingly reliant on access to information and communication that fits in our purses and pockets. The smartphones we carry around are many times more powerful than the computers that landed Apollo 11 on the moon. The more essential those gadgets become, the more our demand for radio frequency bandwidth increases. (Whether we are smarter for having them is an editorial for another time.)
Anyone who’s lost a call somewhere on Route 7A (with a hands-free device, please) knows Vermont offers challenging terrain for cell phone signals. But we are confident that the town and AT&T can agree upon a site that both sides can live with, one that has far less impact on aesthetics and our neighbors – but does enough to address the company’s capacity needs and improve signal quality.
If the town can serve as landlord for a communications tower, the revenue from that lease would help the town maintain its excellent services and help keep property taxes down. However, the same factors that led the Selectboard and Planning Commission to oppose the Side Road site should apply to any other site. It may be true there are no “perfect” locations, but the bottom line should be this: It should have minimal impact on people and enjoyment of their property, and a limited impact on the aesthetics the community holds dear.
The days when we shoved questionable infrastructure and zoning decisions down people’s throats just because we could produced a series of regrettable outcomes in this country. That line of policymaking – showing too much deference to automobiles and, in some cases, aided and abetted by thinly disguised racism – gave New York City the Cross Bronx Expressway, Boston’s Chinatown the Combat Zone, and downtown Hartford, Conn., the Interstate 84 viaduct. Just to our west, the Collar City Bridge in Troy, N.Y., and the Empire State Plaza in Albany decimated existing neighborhoods in the name of progress. These were errors in judgment, and they should not be repeated.
The town’s zoning regulations prohibit communications towers in residential neighborhoods for good reasons. Let’s stick with the plan, and find a better solution that doesn’t directly impact a residential neighborhood.