Verizon antennae proposed for Athens

A group of Hudson residents has banded together to oppose construction of six Verizon Wireless antennae atop Providence Hall, pictured. A proposal is also in the works to build an antenna on Schoharie Turnpike in Athens. File photo

HUDSON — Nineteen Hudson residents hired a lawyer to urge the city planning board to reject Verizon’s application for six antennas atop Providence Hall.

The public hearing had its fifth session Feb. 9 and will continue into its sixth month at the March 9 planning board meeting.

The application is for Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems on behalf of Verizon Wireless to install and operate wireless communications equipment on the roof of 119 Columbia St.

Residents adamantly opposed to the antennas going on top of a building that houses elderly and disabled people have gathered arguments against the application that are within the board’s purview.

The board is allowed to consider visual impacts, code compliance, structural assessments and cultural resources, but not health concerns, said Michael Musso, a senior project manager and risk assessor for the design firm HDR, at the December hearing.

Musso has been consulting for the planning board throughout Verizon’s application process. The application cannot legally be denied because of health concerns as long as the proposition is within Federal Communications Commission guidelines. Various residents were vocal about their concerns over radiation when speaking against the application, particularly in earlier hearings, before it was made clear their health worries could not play a role in the consideration of the application.

Attorney Andrew Campanelli represented Alexandra Semchenko and 18 other Hudson residents at the Feb. 9 public hearing session. Semchenko has presented to the board at various hearings in opposition to the application, voicing concerns ranging from visual impacts to radiation emissions.

Campanelli’s main arguments in his brief are: Verizon has failed to establish that granting the application would be consistent with smart planning requirements under the city’s code; granting the application would violate the zoning code and legislative intent code; the applicant has failed to establish that the facility is actually necessary; there are far fewer intrusive alternative locations where the desired facility could be built; and the placement of the antennas would inflict adverse impacts on nearby homes.

Scott Olson of Young/Sommer LLC, Attorneys at Law, who has been representing Verizon at the planning board meetings, had not read Campanelli’s brief by the time of the hearing, but is familiar with Campanelli’s arguments, Olson said. Campanelli has sued Olson’s clients in the past.

A database on Verizon’s website shows no significant gaps in service at the location of the proposed facility, Campanelli said. He argued Verizon has not established that it has a significant gap in service in the area and has not proven the location would be the least intrusive means of remedying a possible gap. He urged the board to require a higher standard of evidence for Verizon to prove coverage is needed in the area.

“It is far too easy for applicants to falsify the data,” he said of the propagation maps used in the application.

Campanelli thinks the board should ask for drive tests, which Olson refuted.

The propagation maps are 95% accurate and drive tests are about 70% accurate, Olson said.

“All I’m saying is give us the opportunity to provide an expert explanation instead of relying on any attorney’s opinion because the experts should be able to explain that,” Olson said. “But the federal courts have consistently held this type of analysis as acceptable. It is what is used 95% of the time and it’s more than acceptable and more than accurate.”

Olson has been working on telecommunications cases for 24 years and has made requests for drive testing twice, both in the early 2000s, he said.

Campanelli cited an August 2020 case where the FCC wanted drive tests instead of propagation maps, Campanelli said. The California Public Utilities Commission has also requested drive tests, he added. He called propagation maps “meaningless.” But the August 2020 case was in response to a larger initiative, not on the municipal level, Musso said. He also noted the applicant’s proposal for screening around the antennas to aid visual impacts, decreasing intrusiveness. While some city codes require drive testing, Musso did not plan to ask for drive tests from Verizon, he said, adding the data Verizon provided seemed sufficient.

Campanelli and Musso agree it is ultimately up to the planning board to request additional data.

Planning board member Theresa Joyner asked in December for percentages of how much of the service area would be for Greene County, she said.

“And I was told to look at the map because it’s there and I took that as to come up with my own calculations,” she said. “So when you go back and do your research, I really want to know the percentages.”

The majority of the coverage will be in Hudson, Musso said. But it doesn’t look like that on the coverage map, Joyner said.

Planning board member Clark Wieman wanted to make sure other sites were seriously considered, he said.

Verizon looked at other requested alternatives in Hudson that were not viable, Olson said. If there are other alternatives, Verizon will look into them, Olson said.

Wieman said he would expect alternative analyses and asking community members about suggested sites would have been the first step in the process, he said. There has been a “major lack” in overall analysis in coming up with alternate options, Wieman added.

Planning board member John Cody suggested a couple of alternative locations, which Olson said he was not aware of and asked for details.

Second Ward Alderwoman and Council Majority Leader Tiffany Garriga suggested Verizon seek another location. As a large company, it should have the capacity to do so, she added.

Members of the public seemed unsure whether residents of Bliss Towers and Providence Hall had been adequately notified about the project, which provided another concern for extending the opportunity for public comment.

Olson suggested the board end the hearing Feb. 9 and continue receiving written comment.

Chairwoman Betsy Gramkow said it would be “wildly premature” to close the public hearing, as there are “too many unanswered questions.” The board is also awaiting a memo from Musso.

Anyone with alternate site suggestions should write to Gramkow no later than Feb. 19. The hearing will continue March 9, at which point Gramkow expects the hearing will conclude.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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Affordable NORMAL housing.

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