Verizon tower

Providence Hall, where Verizon is hoping to install a 4G tower to improve cellphone service in the area. Aliya Schneider/Columbia-Greene Media

HUDSON — After a fourth public hearing, the debate over the installation of six Verizon antennas on Providence Hall is not over — with at least one more hearing expected next month.

The public hearing for Verizon’s proposed 4G atennas atop Providence Hall, 119 Columbia St., continued its fourth session Tuesday and will continue in February.

The application is for a special-use permit from Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems LLC on behalf of Verizon Wireless to install and operate wireless communication equipment on the roof. The public hearing began at the Oct. 27 planning board meeting and has continued at the board’s monthly meetings.

Concerns from locals have been raised over radiation health impacts, which the planning board is legally not allowed to consider in the decision-making process. The board is allowed to make decisions based on visual impacts, code compliance, structure assessments and cultural resources, Michael Musso, a senior project manager and risk assessor at design firm HDR, said at the December hearing. Musso has been consulting for the planning board throughout Verizon’s application process.

Scott Olson of Young/Sommer LLC, Attorneys at Law, who has been representing Verizon at the planning board meetings, emphasized that the plan is fully compliant with Federal Communications Commission requirements. The plan will only emit 1% of the radio frequency radiation emissions the company can legally use, he said.

Olson showed photo simulations of what a concealment structure around the equipment would look like, at the request of the board. Matching the facade of the building, the structure essentially looks like a penthouse sitting on top. Technical workers could fit inside to operate the equipment.

Olson reiterated that the equipment would not be used for 5G, which members of the public have expressed concern over.

“I’ll say it as much as I have to, but this is not 5G,” he said. “This is not going to become 5G. This is 4G only.” He also reminded the public that the location is compliant with the city code. Article 284-9 prioritizes locations for telecommunications facilities.

“I know some people oppose this, but this is exactly where we’re supposed to be under your code,” he said.

The code provides a hierarchy of where equipment should be located. The first priority is on a city-owned structure and the second priority is on an existing structure. The company initially attempted to put the equipment on top of Bliss Towers, which is owned by the city, but the Housing Authority backed out of the arrangement.

No other suitable alternative locations have been identified in the area, Olson said. The city lacks available buildings high enough for the antennas to be placed on.

Alexandra Semchenko, a Hudson resident who has made several presentations in opposition to the antennas at the hearings, asked Olson why city-owned properties closer to the waterfront weren’t being considered and expressed continued concern over lightning and high winds near Providence Hall.

Engineers determined the buildings by the waterfront were too short, Olson said.

Semchenko asked why Verizon doesn’t build a tower by the river and Olson responded it would be inconsistent with the city code’s hierarchy because the company identified Providence Hall as a viable option.

There are more questions for the applicant to answer, so Olson doesn’t know for sure they can build on the housing complex, planning board member Laura Margolis said.

“The facts are the facts and we’ve proven we can go onto it, so we can’t just change the facts,” Olson said. “It’s very unusual for a municipality to say no, don’t co-locate on an existing building, let’s build a new tower.”

Semchenko expressed concern over how radiation would emit from the antennas.

“I think you have to rely upon the experts,” Olson said.

Licensed engineers have identified the plan as fully compliant with Federal Communications Commission guidelines, he said.

“That’s not debatable,” he added.

Semchenko said she has worked at a product liability firm for 10 years and has seen “experts” shot down in courts, she said. “A lot of times those data are manufactured or incorrect,” she said of the engineers’ documentation of compliance.

As Olson began to respond, Margolis shut him down.

“Your arrogance is really annoying,” Margolis said. “She made her points, don’t put her down.”

Olson said he is not putting anyone down and objected to the accusation.

“So do I object to you,” Margolis said. “She did a lot of work on this, let’s appreciate it. We will take everything into consideration.”

Planning board member Larry Bowne said everyone, including the applicant and members of the public, should direct their comments toward the board. The Zoom format encourages a back and forth that wouldn’t happen at an in-person public hearing, he added.

It is unclear if Providence Hall would lose its tax exemption status by hosting the Verizon equipment, which could lead to people losing housing, Semchenko said.

But Columbia Memorial Health is a non-profit and hosts antennas on its roof, planning board chairwoman Betsy Gramko said.

“It has to be clarified because that’s a big thing,” Semchenko said.

Olson has conducted numerous arrangements of this nature on public-housing buildings and tax-exemption status is not lost, he said.

“It just doesn’t happen. People will not be put out on the streets,” Olson said, calling it a non-issue.

Margolis speculated the property owner would pay taxes on income from the commercial entity. The Providence Hall building owner has not participated in the hearings.

Glenn Roney, a Providence Hall resident who has read letters against the proposal at several hearings on the project, directed blame toward the building owner, Arbor Management, “who has been silent as the villain, not Verizon, for allowing it to get this far,” Roney said.

The building is owned by North Delaware Realty, which is based in Wilmington, Delaware, according to property records. The company has the same address, 4 Denny Road, as Arbor Management.

If Verizon builds atop the building, AT&T and Sprint will follow suit, adding more configurations to the skyline, Roney said. He pointed out Semchenko’s concerns about the antennas being visible from Hudson’s historic district, which Semchenko discussed at earlier hearings.

Hudson’s historic district has a “designation of honor and value that accrues over centuries,” and should be defended like an endangered wildlife habitat, Roney said.

“People don’t choose to live or visit here because of the quality of cellphone service,” he said, calling the antennas “soul crushing” and an “ugly, out-of-place variable.”

He argued the negative impacts the antennas would bring to the city would overbear the benefit of improved service from Verizon.

The hearing will continue at the planning board’s February meeting.

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