Firm sues town over cell tower denial

Officials rejected location at temple

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / August 21, 2011

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A Florida-based cell tower company is taking the Westwood Planning Board to court after the panel denied a special permit the firm needed to raise a 100-foot tower on the grounds of Temple Beth David.

SBA Towers II LLC has been in talks with Westwood officials since last year about erecting the tapering 36-inch-diameter tower that would host four cell carriers and bring service upgrades to the area, as well as significant rental revenue to the synagogue on Clapboardtree Street.

Westwood town planner Nora Loughnane said the Planning Board had never previously denied a permit to a cell tower company, and there are nearly a dozen towers already sited around town.

“We have always tried to achieve a result where the tower is as far as possible from residential properties, and that it is disguised as much as can be,’’ she said. “But in this case it wasn’t possible.’’

SBA, which operates towers in Braintree, Carver, Norwell, Randolph, and Stoughton, filed the suit in US District Court in Boston.

The company is also in a fight over a cell tower in Milton, where a Land Court judge ruled this month that the tower the company owns on American Legion property on Granite Avenue is being operated illegally.

Judge Judith Cutler ruled that the Milton Zoning Board of Appeals overstepped its authority when it renewed SBA’s permit to operate the tower. The judge agreed with the Milton Legion Post 114 that the original five-year permit had expired in 2008, and the ZBA erred when it approved a renewal application nine months later. The company is appealing.

Some property owners are eager to boost their bottom lines by hosting a cell tower. In Duxbury, for example, First Parish Church of Duxbury recently replaced its historic wooden steeple with a fiberglass copy to accommodate the new AT&T cell antenna constructed within it. In the Milton case, the American Legion is seeking more favorable financial terms for hosting the SBA tower.

The demand for wireless coverage is growing. According to the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry, the wireless industry spent $71 billion in capital expenditures from 2008 to 2010, and wireless data traffic more than doubled from 2009 to 2010.

In Westwood, neighbors near Temple Beth David are vehement in their opposition to the proposed tower that in some cases would be just 500 feet from their homes. The basis of SBA’s case is that the Planning Board violated the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which says aesthetics is not a legally valid reason to deny a cell tower request.

SBA officials could not be reached for comment. Temple president Amy Cook said, “We are disappointed that the Planning Board didn’t see this differently, but it is in litigation and in the court’s hands now.’’

Loughnane said SBA wanted to put its tower on a portion of the temple property at the junction of Clapboardtree and Winter streets that just didn’t suit it.

“It was very close to the road and very ‘in your face,’ ’’ she said. “It would have had a strong impact on the visual character of the neighborhood.’’

It is being characterized as a flagpole, she said, “but it’s 3 feet around at the bottom.’’

The temple property, however, held few other options. Wetlands cover one area of the property and a fully developed parking area is already set in another, Loughnane said. Plus, there was no desire on the part of the owners to adjust the physical building, as some houses of worship have done, to accommodate a tower, she said.

She said town officials are prepared to try to work with SBA to find another location. On the table for discussion are sites at Sheehan Elementary School, its adjoining athletic field, and Buckmaster Pond, near Pond Street and Route 109. Only the school site is zoned for the use.

Loughnane said Westwood’s attorney has contacted SBA and hopes to set up a meeting. That could take place later this month or in September.

Milton attorney Robert Sheffield, who represents SBA in that town’s dispute, said many people don’t want cell towers in their backyards, but most of them use cell phones. He noted the success of a cell tower atop Milton Hospital that hosts three cell carriers. “With that one, everyone is as pleased as punch,’’ he said.

Elsewhere in Milton, though, the Zoning Board of Appeals in June 2010 rejected a T-Mobile plan to put up a 120-foot-tall tower in a Boy Scout camp at the edge of the Blue Hills.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at

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