The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 19, unanimously approved plans for a new cell tower to be placed on the grounds of the transfer center.
If all goes according to plan, the proposed 150-foot-tall monopole tower will be built by AT&T and cell signals will start to be emitted from it in about two years, the amount of time it's estimated to sign a lease and build a structure.
"My experience has been that from the day they sign the lease till the day the signal leaves the tower, you're talking about 24 months," Geoffrey Pickard, Utilities Commission member and cell tower guru, said after the meeting. Pickard said he expected the lease to be signed in about a month, with no unexpected difficulties.
The tower would increase reliable cell coverage in New Canaan, which now stands at about 25 percent, though Pickard would not quantify by how much, given the many variables and measurements involved with the project, but said the new tower will make a real difference. In a phone conversation with Pickard from the transfer station, the call was dropped three times due to poor signal.
The need for improved cell coverage in New Canaan has become increasingly evident recently, according to Pickard.
"We've had too many 911 calls missed," he said at the selectmen meeting. "During Sandy, one person had to drive 3 miles to call 9-1-1, during which time his roof burned down. Safety is the thing which really drives us."
The proposal was met with strong approval by the board. Selectman Nick Williams noted that improving cell coverage was one of the three main goals this administration defined at its inception, along with building a new Town Hall and working on tapping the natural gas pipeline, which runs through Waveny Park.
First Selectman Robert Mallozzi added that the project is "in keeping with the Board of Selectmen's desire to expand cell service. AT&T has worked closely with Pickard and the town and I'm encouraged because this is exactly what we wanted to do."
In addition to better coverage, there could be a financial incentive for the town to have the tower on public land. Pickard estimated that if three carriers use the tower, yearly payments to the town could be about $33,000. He said that in a typical lease, AT&T would not pay for the first seven years to recoup the cost of building the tower, but after that, payments to the town could be about $100,000 annually.
Towers typically have a signal range of between 1.5 and 2 miles, Pickard said, but that decreases with New Canaan's hilly topography.
"I don't think this tower would help those residents up in the northern part of town," Williams noted.
Verizon still has plans in the works to construct a cell phone tower in the northern parts of town, though that project is not moving nearly as quickly, thanks in part to complaints from neighbors over the aesthetics of the proposed tower.
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