STARKS — A group of residents are asking selectmen for a moratorium on telecommunications towers, following an application by a Massachusetts-based company to build a cellphone tower on Abijah Hill Road.

It is not clear whether the moratorium would prevent the tower from being built, but if passed it could allow additional time for the town to develop a telecommunications ordinance.

The proposed moratorium, which was presented to selectmen Monday night with 38 valid signatures, would prevent the town from approving plans for the construction, use or operation of telecommunications towers for a period of 180 days.

According to state law, the moratorium must be voted on as written by the residents who presented it, but selectmen said they have some concerns over its legality, specifically whether it can apply to applications that have already been submitted. According to the petition, the moratorium would apply retroactively to all applications the town received in the last 180 days, including the June 6 application for a cellphone tower submitted by Bay Communications II LLC.

The vote is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8, at the Starks Community Center.

First selectman Paul Frederic said the town has consulted with an attorney and the Maine Municipal Association, but has yet to receive a clear answer on whether the moratorium, if passed, could prevent the approval of Bay’s application.

“First we need to see if it passes. It doesn’t make sense to spend the money on an attorney if this ordinance does not pass,” said Frederic. “It may be that they are grandfathered in.”

Bay Communications has already signed a lease with Claire and Mark Nelson for a 1-acre parcel that they plan to rent for five years under a contract that is renewable for 50 years.

Planning Board chairman Kerry Hebert said the only way to prevent the Bay Communications project from being built on Abijah Hill Road would be to enact a townwide zoning ordinance, although in the past residents have rejected enacting such a law.

Even if the moratorium passes, the lease the Nelsons have with Bay Communications could protect the company and its plans, said selectmen.

“I think regardless of the outcome with this moratorium, the town does need a telecommunications ordinance,” said Hebert.

Such a law could prevent towers from being built in clusters or additional towers from being built before existing ones are fully used, he said.

Cindy Brown, who lives on Abijah Hill Road and whose home would be the closest to the tower at 700 feet away, has helped lead opposition against the proposed 195-foot tower, which would initially provide cellphone service by AT&T Wireless.

She said the ordinance is a way to explore how telecommunications projects should fit into the town, since there are no rules or regulations specific to telecommunications.

In the 180 days that the moratorium would provide, residents and selectmen could develop an ordinance for telecommunications development.

“It would be an option for us to develop the way we want these applications to be handled and the conditions we want surrounding these type of projects,” said Brown.

For example, Brown said, the Bay Communications project has unfolded fast, with the company providing notices to residents near the site just one week before their application was to be reviewed by the Planning Board.

Frederic said residents will have the opportunity to ask questions and comment on the ordinance and proposed cellphone tower.

The petition comes less than two weeks after the Planning Board voted to postpone a decision on the building application by Bay Communications.

The planning board will meet again on Wednesday, Aug. 7, to do a walk-through of the site with a representative from Bay and plans to review the application on Wednesday, Aug. 21.

The application by Bay Communications says construction would begin immediately if approved and would be completed in six weeks. It would initially provide service by AT&T Wireless, but Bay has said that up to five additional wireless companies may end up using the site.

Bay has two operating towers, but is developing other sites in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York. In Maine, according to its website, it is building towers in Cornville, Hope and Knox.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
[email protected]

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