If you don’t know what you are doing…

Guest Columnist

This week the Town and Commission and the Planning and Zoning Board considered Comp. Plan and Text Amendment language to establish a policy and Land Use Regulations for telecommunications facilities on LBK.

The Commission had the sense to admit that they didn’t know all they needed to know about the technical aspects of this subject and hinted to the P&ZB that they could ask for a consultant before deliberating on a complex 16 page code change.

At the Board meeting, the Chair delivered that message from the Commission; a message supported by the Town Attorney, Gene Jaleski and myself. As I stated, if you don’t know what you are doing because of the technical nature of the subject, don’t hastily make laws that the Town may regret later.

Nevetheless, the Board felt compelled to bury themselves into wordsmithing. Although it is Town policy to discourage construction of a cell tower (the amendment would rank a cell tower as the least desirable option) the Board members seemed to fall over each other trying to accommodate a cell tower option. Individual members seemed to downplay if not eliminate aesthetic considerations, want to make sure that the presence of nearby residential was not a poison pill criterion eliminating the possibility of a cell tower and recommended that the height of the tower be raised to 120 feet.

None of the options that the Town actually favored were discussed. These options got low priority in the discussion and were even derided as economically infeasible.  One member said we needed an expert consultant; another countered that we had all we needed to know about the subject and lets get on with it.

Telecommunications Service is a utility. As such a municipality develops a plan for delivery of that utility. If that utility is not functioning up to standards you have a plan for upgrading and improvement. You don’t wait until an applicant submits a sewer plan before you install sewers and if no applications are forthcoming you go without sewer service. If only a cell tower operator applies to improve cell reception on the island that applicant will make the case that since no one else showed up the Town will have to accept the Tower as the only viable option by default.

Who cares about a hierarchy when the Town is faced with a my way or the highway proposition? Go ahead reject the applicant-then what?The Town needs to take a proactive stance and develop a Telecommunications Element within the Comp Plan as they have with other infrastructure deemed essential to the well being of the island. That element needs to be more encompassing than simply looking at cell phone service.  If indeed there is a problem with reception and reliability then let that issue be part of and not the sum of what we need to explore in terms of services and possibilities for this rapidly expanding technology. Have a plan and then devise a way to implement that plan.Let’s not get mentally or legally stuck atop a Fawlty Tower that will be obsolete at its inception. That’s what I saw happening yesterday at the P&Z Board meeting.

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