Déjà vu: Cheektowaga weighs decision on N. Seine cell tower

CHEEKTOWAGA – The Cheektowaga Town Board will hold a special meeting next week to vote on a proposed telecommunications tower on N. Seine Drive after they heard from the community at a public hearing Tuesday night.

The special meeting is scheduled for January 31st at 5 pm in the council chambers at Town Hall.

It may seem like Déjà vu for many; the same telecommunication companies, the same site, the same “not-in-my-backyard” concerns.

The public hearing was held Tuesday night because Up State Tower, LLC and Buffalo-Lake Erie Wireless Systems d/b/a Blue Wireless is once again interested in building a 130′ monopole type telecommunications tower at the Southline Athletic Association at 294 N. Seine Drive.

Their renewed interest in the property comes weeks after lease negotiations broke down between the town and a lawsuit was filed in state and federal court saying the town engaged in “fraud, misrepresentation, deception, and other improper conduct” during the lengthy process to get two cell phone towers built on Losson Road and Transit Road as an alternative to the N. Seine Drive site.

“We thought it was a sign of goodwill that we were willing to work with the town, and at great expense to the applicant, build out a facility on the town-owned sites that would meet our coverage objectives, but again, we’re unable to do that,” said Corey Auerback of Barclay Damon, LLP, an attorney representing the companies.  “We got [the project] approved, and then the town essentially backed out.”

He says the town requested exorbitant rental rates for the town-owned sites during lease negotiations and essentially torpedoed the deal on purpose.  It was not clear if the company ever provided a counter to the town’s offer.  A town source with knowledge of the negotiations could not comment on the matter due to the pending legal action.

According to the lawsuit, the town was seeking $1,800 per month, plus $350 per each additional telecommunication company that would lease space on the tower.  In the context of market rates, Cheektowaga Chronicle reported last December that the Maryvale School District would receive $3,000 each year to house a Verizon “micro-cell” site on their property.

Mr. Auerback hinted Tuesday night that the telecom companies are ready to do a deal on the town-owned sites if the town would present a fair offer for rental rates.  Until then, they have to go with the N. Seine Drive site to meet their obligations under a Federal Communications Commission license – a site that would shift any rental compensation to the Southline Athletic Association.

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Mr. Auerback told the town board.  “Certainly, the towers that we proposed on town property when the town was going to be receiving compensation from the applicant, you found that there were no potentially significant environmental impacts.  We propose that the impacts are no greater here then there were at the sites you previously approved.”

An email to two Southline Athletic Association representatives went unanswered Wednesday.

The proposed tower on N. Seine Drive would be built near Keith Szen’s Woodgate Drive backyard. He’s surprised that two years later the residents still have to worry about a tower going up in their backyards all because it appears the town failed to close a deal on the lease agreement for the two alternative sites.

“It’s disappointing that two years later we’re still talking about the same thing. [The town] had access to all the information, the numbers, everything was redacted from what we were allowed to see,” Mr. Szen told Cheektowaga Chronicle after the public hearing.  “I don’t see how we could have been that far apart, and nobody knew it.”

He says he understands the need for cell phone towers to be built as telecommunication companies expand their network coverage.  He’s in favor of the towers going up on at the sites on Losson and Transit.

“There’s already a tower on Losson Road.  I don’t understand why that is an issue, that we’re debating whether or not it should be there or not be there, other than the town wants more money.  The Transit Road site, to me, has the least number of residential properties involved given that it would still meet the coverage gaps that Blue Wireless says they have, and if that’s the only other location within the town, I guess I accept the fact that’s probably where that has to be built,” added Mr. Szen.

He has two requests for councilmembers; one is to deny the special use permits for the tower at the Southline Athletic Association property.

“Secondly, I want the town to work out whatever the numbers need to be on the two other locations, which they already approved,” Mr. Szen said.

Outside of Councilmember Brian Pilarski clarifying a funding question from a resident about the athletic association, no other councilmember spoke at the public hearing.

Cheektowaga Chronicle spoke to Town Attorney John Dudziak by phone Wednesday morning.

“The town board is weighing heavily the concerns and comments from the residents in the neighborhood surrounding the Southline Athletic Association.  The town board will be making a decision regarding their application by the end of the month.”

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