Bridgton eyes cell tower moratorium

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Selectmen agreed Tuesday to seek legal advice in the wake of an appeal by Hio Ridge residents to enact a moratorium on cell phone towers in town.

The board will be asking the town attorney what jurisdiction the town has in terms of Federal Communications Commission laws, and what language the moratorium question should have if brought before voters in November.

“I’m no attorney,” Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz told several Hio Ridge Road residents who brought the request to Tuesday’s meeting. But, he said he’ll ask the lawyer whether the moratorium question can have a retroactivity clause that would ensure that no building permits can be issued for cell phone towers until the matter of minimum distances of towers from residences can be resolved.

AT&T Mobility and American Towers currently have an application before the Bridgton Planning Board for a cell phone tower to be built on Hio Ridge Road. The board will continue its review of the application on June 17. Resident Judy Veit told selectmen the cell tower would cause “irreparable and irreversible harm to a large developing neighborhood.”

She said there are over 30 abutters to the cell tower proposal, and new homes are going up and lots being sold on a regular basis. “In our opinion there may be as many as 30 additional lots in those neighborhoods,” she said of property on Carissa Drive and Deer Run Estates. In addition, a new nine-lot subdivision located just across the street is now before the Planning Board.

The moratorium is needed, Veit said, “to protect Bridgton town residents until a reasonable minimum distance of protection from a cell phone tower to a private home can be established.” The moratorium should apply to any pending applications for permits, she added.

Berkowitz said the clock would start from the date that the moratorium request was made, but could go back no further.

Hio Ridge Road resident Gary Burhite said, “It feels like an attack. To have your basic human needs be under attack. We came to Bridgton because we thought we’d get away from that.”

Resident Greg Jones said a moratorium didn’t seem warranted because the town has had seven years since the last cell phone tower was proposed for that area to make changes in the ordinance that would protect residents.

But Bill Vincent said, “Maybe if a moratorium is proposed, something will get done this time.”

Selectman Paul Hoyt noted that the town’s Tower Ordinance does address the need to “minimize adverse impacts” from cell towers such as the loss of property value. “That seems to be a valid concern,” he said. “I think this is something worth looking at. There seems to be some holes in this.”

Selectman Bob McHatton asked why Question 10 on the June 10 ballot, a citizen’s initiative to increase minimum distances to 750 feet, wouldn’t address the issue. Veit said her husband Paul had only four days to get the needed petition signatures to have the citizen’s initiative included on the June 10 referendum, and he didn’t have time to research what wording would best protect residents living near a cell tower.

 

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