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July 11, 2014

With proper notice, Methuen celltower gets another hearing

METHUEN —  Apparently, there was a disconnection somewhere at Verizon Wireless.

That's the explanation of why a planned public hearing Wednesday on the telecommunication company's plans to build 90-foot cellphone tower on West Street wasn't officially held.

According to city officials, Verizon failed to publish legally required public notices of the hearing in the local newspaper. So instead of having a formal public hearing, city officials allowed residents to voice their concerns with plans for the tower. The residents, however, will have to do it again in August.

Verizon submitted an application to construct a 90-foot structure, which contains 6 antennas and resembles a flagpole, on the property at 121 West St.

The next step was to hold a hearing, listen to public comment before deciding on the application.

State law governing zoning regulations specifies that a public hearing must be announced in a newspaper of general circulation once in each of the two weeks leading up to the hearing. Prior to Wednesday's scheduled public hearing, the required notice had not been published.

"The applicant is responsible for the legal notice. We give them all the information they need. All they have to do is send it in. Evidently that fell through the cracks," Community Development Board Chairman Stephen DeFeo said yesterday.

DeFeo also said the city normally follows up with applicants to ensure the state-mandated protocol is followed.

"Unfortunately, I found out way too late that it wasn’t done," he said, citing the large number of staff members on vacation. "We try to be a little more careful about things like this, we just missed this one."

After calling Wednesday's meeting to order, DeFeo explained the required notice had not been published but told residents they would still be able to ask questions of Christopher Swiniarski, the attorney representing Verizon. The Community Development Board, however, would not take part in the discussion and a public hearing would take place at a later time, he told residents.

"Anything that's brought before the board this evening, we can't take under consideration," he said.

Some residents still took the opportunity to speak and tensions ran high.

Paul Soucy, the structure's only direct abutter, gathered signatures from more than 90 neighbors who oppose the project. Dawn McGovern, who signed it, said she didn't see a need for the pole. The structure would hold six antennas and be located alongside a 12- by 16-foot equipment shelter.

"I have Verizon. Thank you very much. I get perfect service. I live right behind (Soucy), so I don't know why we need a tower if I get perfect service," she told Swiniarski.

Swiniarski called the petition "inflammatory."

West District Councilor George Kazanjian and At-large Councilor Jim Jajuga stepped up to voice their opposition to the tower. Both were met with applause from the crowd.

"I'm sorry that the citizens couldn't be heard tonight, but I just wanted to assure them that I'm opposed to this. I think this is wrong and I'll explain why at a further hearing," Jajuga said.

That hearing is slated for Aug. 13. Director of Economic and Community Development Bill Buckley said he intends to make sure the August meeting is properly advertised. He called Wednesday's meeting a "workshop opportunity."

"The thinking behind that was more of a customer friendly thing. The last thing I wanted was 50-60 people coming to speak on an item and not being able to speak on it," Buckley said.

Buckley said he and the staff in his department made the decision in advance to leave Verizon's proposal on the meeting's agenda. Allowing public comment, he said, was "in the best interest of the community.""I actually think it was quite gracious of the chairman to allow it. He could have very easily just canceled the hearing and told everyone, 'There is no comment, and we’ll see you next month,'" he said. "We decided that wasn’t appropriate."

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