As many of you are aware, last fall Verizon issued a notice of its intent to build a 140-foot cell tower in the middle of Warren. Since then, Verizon declined three invitations to meet with town officials and residents and then indicated its intent to pull its notice and re-issue a new notice in the future. No one has heard from Verizon since and it appears at this point that they have walked away from this proposal. The Verizon proposal did, however, highlight how critically important town plans and zoning ordinances are in order for town officials to have input into proposed cell tower projects and ensure that such projects actually serve the needs of their communities and are sited and developed in as responsible and unobtrusive a manner as possible.
It was also a blessing in disguise that the Verizon notice placed a focus on the draft Land Use and Development Regulations (LUDRs) now in front of the Warren Select Board. The planning commission has worked long and hard on this rewrite of the town’s LUDRs and deserves credit for their efforts. That said, the draft LUDRs do not include important protections provided in the current LUDRs relating to the location, height, or conditional use status of cell towers. In addition, many other Vermont towns, including Waitsfield, Shelburne, Mendon, Ludlow, Duxbury, Townsend, Dover, Wilmington, Guilford, Rutland, and Brookline, have amended their zoning ordinances to provide enhanced protections regarding cell tower projects. The issue here stems, in large part, from the fact that the form of LUDRs used by Place Sense, the consultant retained by the planning commission, does not contain meaningful cell tower provisions. This same form has been used in Dorset and Londonderry and had the effect of eroding existing protections those towns had in place as well.
It is also important to note that this group is not opposed to better cell coverage. The reality is that the applicable state statute effectively limits the ability of town officials to review and have input on major industrial installations in their communities. Strengthening the draft LUDRs will not block future cell towers but rather give our town officials the tools they need to better ensure that the interests of our community and residents are being considered, protected, and advanced. With the Verizon proposal no longer in front of us, this should not be viewed as a divisive matter but rather an opportunity to improve our LUDRs for the benefit of everyone and ensure that Warren is able to maintain an appropriate balance between development and the aesthetics, scenic beauty and environmental considerations that are fundamental to our community and the Mad River Valley.
We encourage every Warren resident who is concerned about this issue to let your town officials know how you feel. And we ask that everyone remain appreciative for the efforts all of our town officials have put in on the LUDR revisions, the Verizon notice and all other matters they oversee. The last few months have fostered a far greater appreciation among our group for the efforts and commitment of our town officials, and we are confident that with their leadership and your input, we will all get to a good outcome for our community.
Egan lives in Warren and is a member of the Warren Residents for Responsible Cell Tower Siting and Development.