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May 6, 2019 3:20 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

ATT And East Hampton Discussing Cell Tower In Northwest To Settle Lawsuit

May 7, 2019 12:45 PM

Attorneys for East Hampton Town and AT&T Mobile are negotiating to put a cellular tower on a town-owned parcel in Northwest Woods, where a new fire station is about to be constructed.

The move would be part of the settlement of a lawsuit the phone company brought against the town for denying an application to put cellular antennas on the Iacono Farm wind turbine.

Although neither town officials nor the attorney for AT&T would discuss the ongoing settlement negotiations, a letter to the judge in the case this month updating her on the status of settlement negotiations indicates that the two sides are working on an agreement to let the cellular service provider install a tower at the former “brush dump” property that lies between Old Northwest Road and Bull Path.

Additionally, a legal announcement published in The East Hampton Star last week advertised that “AT&T proposes to build a 180-foot monopole at Old Northwest Road” and asks any “interested parties” with concerns about impacts on historic properties to call a representative of the company, Scott Horn.

A call to Mr. Horn by The Press was not returned.

The town owns about 15 acres of land just to the south and west of where Old Northwest Road and Cedar Street meet and extending southward to Bull Path. The town has reached an agreement with the village to lease about a half acre of the land fronting on Old Northwest Road.

The village has been given permission by the town’s Planning Board and Architectural Review Board to construct a 3,800-square-foot fire department substation on the land and is awaiting a building permit for the substation. It will house two fire trucks and one ambulance and has been billed as a way of providing relief to residents of Northwest from higher insurance premiums because they live several miles from a firehouse.

The town had also once entertained a proposal to construct a solar farm on the land.

In the letter to U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Tomlinson, attorney Kenneth Wilbur, whose firm, Drinker Biddle & Reath, represents AT&T in its lawsuit against the town, says that the discussions for using the Northwest property have raised “significant” environmental issues that need further review.

He also says that if it is found to be impractical for the phone company to put a tower on the town property, the company would expect to be allowed to place its equipment at Iacono Farm.

“As discussed with the court, the essence of those discussions is that AT&T will apply for expedited approval of a facility at the town’s brush dump on the condition that AT&T will be permitted to construct its facility at the location at issue in this litigation if the brush dump application is denied or the brush dump site proves impracticable to develop,” Mr. Wilbur says in his letter to Judge Tomlinson.

Mr. Wilbur did not respond to calls seeking comment over the last two weeks. East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said he could not comment on pending litigation. The case is being handled for the town by outside counsel.

In late 2017, after two years of review, the town Planning Board rejected an application by New Cingular Wireless PCS, the former name of the cellular company that is now AT&T Wireless, to put nine cellular antennas on an existing 136-foot-tall wind turbine on the Iacono Farm property on Long Lane.

The board, which voted 4-2 to reject the application, nodded to concerns about the aesthetic impact of the changes to the tower. Board members also pointed to the possibility of setting a precedent that would encourage wind towers to be built on farms and about the prospect that the AT&T lease would allow the turbine tower—which was built under special exemptions for agricultural businesses—to remain even if Iacono Farm ceased operating.

The phone company quickly sued, arguing that the denial was arbitrary because the tower had been approved years earlier with the acknowledgment that its location would have essentially zero aesthetic impact on the area.

East Hampton Village Administrator Rebecca Hansen said this week that she was unaware of any discussions about placing a cellular tower on the Northwest property. She said the village is expecting to receive a building permit for the fire department substation soon and hopes to begin construction shortly afterward.

The village awarded the $1.4 million construction contract for the new fire station earlier this year to Carter-Melence Inc. Once construction begins, the work has been estimated to take about eight months, but Ms. Hansen said the hope is that the work will go quicker.

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