April 05, 2020

Belfast residents decry radio tower> Unicel project halted for lack of permit

BELFAST — A 150-foot communication tower being built in East Belfast has raised the ire of nearby landowners who had been unaware of the project until the steel began to take shape.

Some of those landowners vented their anger at the City Council on Wednesday night. “How can something like this go on without anyone knowing it was happening?” asked Jim Roberts, who lives on Patterson Hill Road near the tower. “It angers me to see this slip through so many people’s hands.”

The tower is being built by Unicel, a Bangor cellular phone company. Construction began earlier this month but was halted when the city issued a stop-work order after no permit could be found on file at the city’s code enforcement office. No Unicel representative was present at the council meeting.

According to Bob Keating, the acting city manager, Unicel officials in September had asked Bob Temple, the city code enforcement officer, about the process of getting a permit to build a communications tower on Patterson Hill Road. The building site is zoned for general purpose uses, which includes a use known as essential services. Essential services, as defined in the city ordinances, include communication facilities.

But Unicel apparently failed to complete the permitting process, Keating said, after he looked into the project in response to complaints and inquiries by neighbors to the tower. Temple issued a stop-work order until a permit is issued. Keating said that Temple has asked Unicel to supply his office with information about the safety and anchoring of the tower.

But regardless of the answers Temple receives, several residents who own property abutting the tower told the council that a 150-foot tower is unacceptable in their neighborhood.

“This is a general purpose zone,” Roberts said. “That doesn’t mean towers.”

David Clements said the tower would decrease his property’s value.

One woman described the completed project as a “150-foot tower with blinking lights and radiation.” She asked the council and audience: “Is there anyone here who would want a tower this size next to their yard?”

“The radiation can be harmful from these kinds of towers,” said Robert Hughes. “You have to look at that factor, too.”

The Patterson Hill residents criticized the council for not properly overseeing the city’s business. But Councilor Walter Ash pointed out that Hughes and others had lobbied to keep their part of Belfast left zoned general purpose, which is much less restrictive than residential zones. Hughes told Ash that residents had been concerned that a stricter zone would not have permitted people to have a horse or a goat on a small acreage. “We weren’t talking about a 150-foot tower,” Hughes said.

Ash replied, “What you’re doing is making an awful good case for zoning.”

Keating said that the communication tower is a permitted use in the general purpose zone.

“Is Unicel phone an essential service?” Roberts asked rhetorically. “I don’t think so.”

The matter has been referred to the City Attorney’s Office for an opinion as to whether the issue should go before the Belfast Planning Board.

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