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Town could revisit cell tower ordinances

DUMMERSTON—According to Dummerston Planning Commissioner Andrew MacFarland, the town’s cell tower ordinance is “confusing.”

He and fellow planning commissioner Sam Farwell attended the Nov. 24 Selectboard meeting to ask the board to consider changing the town’s laws governing cell towers and other telecommunications structures.

They said these rules should be moved from the town’s ordinances to the zoning bylaws, where, as Farwell explained, there is an established infrastructure and a written procedure for enforcement.

“It’s pragmatic,” Farwell said.

MacFarland told the board their decision can wait until budget season is over, but asked them to “put it on your to-do list."

But, the Planning Commission will only act if the Selectboard indicates it is important.

“If you tell us it’s important to get this into the bylaws pronto, then we would do that,” Farwell told the board. First, though, he recommended getting feedback from the Development Review Board.

Farwell noted the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT) does not suggest one way or the other, and that organization provides examples of telecommunications structures in ordinances and zoning bylaws.

“On the surface, it makes more sense to have it in zoning than in ordinances,” Selectboard member Steve Glabach said, adding, “but, we’d have to discuss it."

Members of the Selectboard and the Planning Commission agreed that gathering public input is important. Farwell said that even though the subject is “very technical, it would be wise to get some kind of sense of what people in town think before just having a public hearing.”

The board members and commissioners also discussed the change in public perception of cell towers, especially with the advanced technology that better hides or integrates the structures into the landscape, such as within a church steeple.

“Times have changed,” Glabach said, noting most people have cellphones, and they are using them for data, not just calls. He said towers are “crucial,” and more people are interested in placing them nearby to allow for greater coverage.

MacFarland noted the discussion on the town’s telecommunications structures will be “much easier to have... when there isn’t a cell tower [proposal] looming over” the board and the commission.

After the Selectboard discussed the issue, including which parts of Dummerston currently have mobile coverage, chairperson Zeke Goodband said, “I’d say [Farwell and MacFarland] go back [to the Planning Commission] with the sense that the Selectboard agrees with them that this makes more sense as a bylaw and that you take it and run with it.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #336 (Wednesday, December 16, 2015). This story appeared on page D1.

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