The town of New Canaan soon will have an independent and detailed cellphone coverage study.
The Town Council voted May 21 to approve the establishment of a new project that aims to evaluate the quality of cellular coverage and radio frequency service in town as well as assess the viability of potential cellphone tower locations.
Utilities Commission Chairman Howard Freedman told the council that the firm, Centerline Solutions, would drive through each street in town to assess the quality of all four major carriers -- AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.
The company then will evaluate the impact of potential cell tower sites and make recommendations on site parameters. The town will use the study to work with cellular carriers to discuss possible solutions to improve wireless coverage in New Canaan.
The town famously suffers from poor cellphone service, especially because of its topography. In some parts of town, especially the northern side, residents often report experiencing dropped calls or fading signal strength.
The $29,000 project includes a second drive around town after the AT&T cell towers at Norwalk Armory -- 290 New Canaan Ave. in Norwalk, right on the New Canaan border -- and at Silver Hill Hospital are built. At that time, Centerline Solutions will reassess wireless coverage improvements resulted from the new towers.
"The whole idea is to get a true picture, once everything is actually in place, so we see where the gaps are," Freedman said.
Silver Hill Hospital recently announced that after a decade in limbo, a 120-foot monopole cell tower will finally go up this summer. Phoenix Partnership will lease space on the hospital campus and the tower will accommodate at least three carriers.
Councilman Penny Young was concerned that the study wouldn't be complete until the new towers are built.
"We just have a critical situation in the town of New Canaan and I hate to hold any of our decisions based on the completion of these projects," Young said.
First Selectman Robert Mallozzi said it was important to go back and analyze the impact of the new towers.
"I think we would be actually wasting money if we just had them come in and use an estimate of what the effect of the other two sites might be upon the whole," he told the council.
The study was a recommendation from the Utilities Commission, which was not satisfied with recent cell tower proposals that aim to build tall structures with external antennas.
"When a carrier or their advocates intend to rush town officials toward a rapid decision to approve a cell site, they may choose to define coverage in a way that suggests the problem is much worse than anyone thought, thereby increasing the pressure on town officials," commission members wrote in a March memo to the Town Council.
In the document, commissioners said studies by carriers often have a "bias in favor of tall towers," which they categorize as 120 feet high or more, because they "maximize the reach of radio signals over a given geographic area at minimum cost for the carrier."
One of the problems with this type of tower, however, is the esthetic impact on the community, the memo states. "Understandably, no one wants to see a tall tower thrusting up in the middle of their neighborhoods. These towers are ugly, obtrusive and have a negative impact on the local scenery."
Last year, AT&T proposed building a 150-foot tall cellphone tower at 394 Main St., where the transfer station is located. Though the town supported the tower, the project has been stalled as many residents in the area are worried about health risks and negative housing prices.
firstname.lastname@example.org, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson