NEW CANAAN — Is the lack of cellular service in town a risk to public safety?

Police, Fire and EMS personnel have stated it is, and the town’s Utilities Commission has echoed the position to advance the proposal of the construction of two 110 foot cellular towers in town. But a large crowd of angry residents begged to differ at a public information session Monday night.

“I have not seen or heard about a life that has been lost in the northwest that could have been saved by a cell phone. Zero. So that’s the real statistic. I think instigating fear is really powerful propaganda,” Stefano Redaelli, of 45 Woods End Road told the commission on Monday. “I find this proposal antiquated, ineffective, insufficient. And I find a lack of transparency in the hidden nature of this process.”

The release of draft plans for the towers at West School and Irwin Park have set off a flurry of protests arguing the long term effects of radiation emitted from cell towers is the real threat to public health and safety.

The opposition has included an online petition that has gained 497 of 500 needed signatures, as of midday April 26, and many spirited speeches against the cell tower, first at an April 20 meeting of the Town Council and then at a Public Information Session held by the Utilities Commission.

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Zoning panel formed

At their Tuesday night meeting, the Planning and Zoning Commission expressed intent to form a subcommittee to tackle the cell tower issue from a land use perspective and develop a set of regulations in order to give the town more control over what kind of towers can be built. Commissioners Dan Radman, Elizabeth DeLuca, Kent Turner and John Flinn will man the subcommittee.

Personal attacks were hurled in several instances at members of the commission. One member of the public called Tesluk a hypocrite, citing a 2004 letter, sent by Tesluk to then First Selectman Judy Neville in opposition to the proposed New Canaan Country Club cell tower which, as it was proposed at the time, would have been in Tesluk’s sight line. The letter was reprinted anonymously as an ad in the New Canaan Advertiser April 20.

Tesluk, in defense, said that it was not the fact alone that the tower would have been in his sight line that he opposed, but that the proposal would have seen the tower moved from its current, somewhat concealed location on Route 123, to an open fairway on the golf course and would have added 50 feet.

“I would like to suggest that whoever sponsored that nice ad, pulled it out of context and attempted to make me look like a hypocrite which, personally, I really resent,” Tesluk said.

Another resident said he believed firmly that many elementary-aged students at West School could have devised a more “elegant plan” than did the Utilities Commission. The latter comment drew jeers from the crowd and requests that the man sit down. Later, several speakers ridiculed the attacks and requested civility between the public and the town body.

“To make personal attacks on me I think is unfounded and unfair. I think you colored the experience of the whole discussion and the whole public forum by doing so,” Tesluk responded.

Utility Commission Secretary JoAnne Kennedy also spoke up in defense of Tesluk.

“I have to say, this man (Tesluk) has done nothing but try and be balanced and respectful,” Kennedy said. “I really want you to stop insulting this chairman, he is the best chairman we’ve had.”

At other times, as when the public hearing was interrupted to allow President of Homeland Towers Manny Vicente, whose company was chosen in a 2016 Request for Proposal (RFP) to work with the town in designing the towers, members of the public stood up to loudly protest the commission, who they claimed was not giving residents ample time to speak, though the meeting drew on for nearly five hours.

Members of the commission repeatedly reminded the crowd they are volunteers and the process remains in its early stages.

Still, because plans had already been drawn, much of the ire of the crowd had to do with a belief that the wheels of the project were in motion and that the building of the towers was imminent.

The commission’s objectivity and openness to debate or receive contrary information, too, were called into question, especially regarding the potential health risks of towers, which members of the public stated were not adequately represented in documents shared on the town website and by the commission itself.

“You clearly paint a one-sided picture of your mindset, your intentions and this, frankly, whole process,” said Andrey Belov, of 113 Jelliff Mill Road

Members of the commission, however, repeatedly sought to set the record straight.

“It’s really worth remembering that we don’t do anything. We collect information, we synthesize it and we pass it along. That’s the job,” said Commissioner Wade Eyerly, reminding the public that the commission has merely the ability to make suggestions to the town’s elected boards. “And it’s certainly not clear to me that decisions on this group are already made up either. So if that’s the impression that we’ve somehow given, I apologize for that because there’s certainly more openness than has come across, apparently.”

The Utilities Commission will meet again on May 1.

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1