Thursday, October 30, 2008

Woodstock Town Board Meeting, October 21

This article appeared in the Townsman, October 23 edition

The so-called WTZA television broadcasting tower, rising three hundred feet from the top of Overlook Mountain and beaming a red light for the last twenty years, should be considered as a possible location for installing apparatus to provide cellular phone service, according to councilwoman Liz Simonson in her report as member of the town board's telecommunications subcommittee.

The tower, which for several years has ceased being used for television transmission, is now managed by a consortium including the property owner Powers Taylor, former town supervisor John LaValle, and Peter Moncure (who owns the two, much smaller radio towers on top of Overlook Mountain). Earlier this year fellow telecommunication subcommittee members George ("Jerry") Washington, Ken Panza and Hurley resident Glenn Kreisberg, a NEXTEL employee, made a presentation to the town board that recommended the Town look favorably on a NEXTEL application to attach a personal wireless service array on the tower in order to extend cell phone service into western regions of the town.

As a result of that presentation the Town sought legal advice from Drayton Grant, the attorney that has provided the town advice on land use issues, including installation of the municipal communications tower last year in the California Quarry. Based on Ms Grant's letter the prospect of using the tower is feasible, but there will be some legal hurdles.

The fact that the tower no longer transmits a television signal is one of them. Construction of the tower was originally permitted in the late 1980s after a then highly controversial ruling of the Woodstock zoning board of appeals that interpreted television broadcasting as a "public utility," therefore exempting the proposed tower from provisions of the zoning law that would prohibit it, and establishing it as a legal albeit non-conforming use. Now that it no longer transmits a television signal it has lost its non-conforming status, according to Grant, and technically the Town could seek its removal.

That does not seem likely.

Instead the Town might, according to Grant, either amend the zoning law to make the tower legal, or the Town may enter into an agreement with the tower owners to accept the tower as is. This latter, very ambiguous course was not explained. Simonson, however, said that she would prefer it to amending the zoning law. Councilman Jay Wenk announced his full support. Councilman Collins expressed the urgency of getting cell phone service to the western parts of the town.

The Town has no information concerning the tower's structure and its suitability for supporting personal wireless service arrays. The Town has not engaged its own professional radio engineers to confirm the subcommittee members' assertion made earlier this year that the top of Overlook Mountain will provide good coverage to a significant portion of the cell service deprived areas of the town (although in this scenario the Wittenberg area seems to have been ruled out). If the Town does legalize the existing tower, the installation of a personal wireless service array would still violate the zoning law unless it is amended.

Supervisor Jeff Moran seemed non-committal on the matter, while councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum commented, "Before we do anything we better ask first if this is where we want to be. Let's make sure that it benefits the town before proceeding."

Simonson had led the charge in 1998 to adopt a costly amendment to the zoning law to prohibit the installation of a personal wireless service on Overlook Mountain.

In other business, Ulster County legislators Brian Shapiro and Don Gregorius, representing Woodstock, and Gary Bischoff from Saugerties, along with Ulster County elections commissioner John Parete, presented the County's side to the dust-up between county and town officials over the hike in election costs and their distribution to the towns. Shapiro and Gregorius apologized for the County's abrupt notice that Woodstock's election costs would rocket from $21,000 to $54,000, Shapiro accepting the town board's darts with "Your point is well taken; your anger is well deserved," but also explaining, as did Gregorius that the board of elections had sent the notices without his knowledge. Shapiro and Gregorius pledged to take a hard look at the elections budget. Bischoff, who serves on the legislature's Efficiency, Reform and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, which apparently had a hand in fashioning the elections budget, explained the extensive and expensive overhaul of how elections will be conducted in Ulster County "was not something we wanted to do," but was mandated by the federal and state governments. He also pledged to take a hard look at the budget with an eye for savings. Parete discussed the budget line by line, and didn't hold out hope for chopping it much. Parete is on record as viewing the whole Help America Vote Act, the federal legislation that led to the skyrocketing election costs, as a ill conceived reaction to the debacle in Florida in the 2000 election. "Ulster County never had trouble with elections."

There were public hearings for the water and sewer districts, Joan Schwartzberg being the only member of the public to raise questions and to point out errors in the budget resolutions. All the hearings were closed and a vote to adopt the budgets will take place at a future date.

The board spent another hour wrangling over insurance requirements and fees and keys for use of the Town buildings.

In addition to Simonson's telecommunications report, she reported, again, that software provided by International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) that would help the Town with its energy decisions could not be downloaded.

Collins, feeling the hour was too late for a productive discussion, asked for a special meeting of the town board to discuss the proposed comprehensive plan, which now appears to be an executive summary of the plan devised in 1999. Such meeting will be held on October 28 and 5:00 pm at the Town Offices.

The McKenna Brothers submitted the lowest bid for Community Center roof repairs and were awarded the $1950 contract.

A public hearing on the proposed "Code of the Town of Woodstock," a consolidation of all the town's local laws and ordinances was scheduled for November 18 at 8:00 pm at the Community Center. The document will be available on line and in the town clerk's office.

The resignation of Judy Peters from the summer recreation committee was accepted, the town board first expressing its thanks for her service.

Bills amounting to $335,518.23 were paid, minutes of previous meetings and the town clerk's report were accepted, and budget transfers were authorized with scant discussion.

In a moment of levity, at about 10:30 there was a loud ringing of a cell phone, which apparently belonged to cell tower litigant Jay Cohen, who had attended the meeting for the purpose of belaboring the former town board's "lies" during the permitting process of the California Quarry cell tower.

True to form, this was another meeting that flirted with midnight.

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