ROME — Lincoln Nye was trying to make an argument for the improved service a new cellphone tower would bring the town, but he was interrupted by a ringing cellphone.

The ironic moment came near the end of Monday’s hour-long public session to discuss the town’s fight to stop construction of a 190-foot tower on The Mountain, a hill off Route 27 popular with hikers and with panoramic views of Long and Great ponds.

The meeting, which drew about 30 people, was held in advance of a joint private session that included selectmen, the planning board and the town attorney to discuss how the town will move forward in the lawsuit.

Voters at the annual town meeting earlier this month approved an ordinance regulating cellphone towers and agreed to appropriate up to $50,000, on top of some $42,000 already spent, to defend the town in a lawsuit filed by Global Tower Assets LLC, of Boca Raton, Fla., and Northeast Wireless Networks LLC, of Winchester, Mass., which have sued the town and the Planning Board in federal court, claiming they were victims of discrimination and should have been allowed to provide personal wireless services, that the application process was unreasonably long — more than a year — and that any written decision lacked substantial evidence in the written record.

Planning board chairman Dick Greenan said Monday that the company’s application failed to comply with the old ordinance in 23 areas.

Global Tower had 60 days to appeal that decision, but instead took the case to U.S. District Court in Bangor. Greenan said the company argued the town’s board of appeal did not have legal standing. The district court judge disagreed and sided with the town. The company has never filed an appeal with the board of appeals.

A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit on July 31, saying that the town had yet to reach a final decision, and upheld that in an order issued Dec. 30. Those decisions have been appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

“They’re not applying to our rules any more,” said moderator Peter Schultz. “They’re going through the court system and trying to outspend us.”

The ordinance approved at Town Meeting two weeks ago repealed one that had been in effect since 2002.

The old ordinance, according to Greenan, had to be updated. Among the changes in the new ordinance is an increase in the application fee from $50 to $1,500.

The ordinance says it is designed “to balance the interests of the residents of Rome, wireless communications providers and wireless communication customers in the siting of wireless communications facilities within the town.”

The town had imposed a moratorium on accepting applications for cell tower construction last October.

The proposed ordinance encourages co-location and requires an initial deposit of $8,500 to fund expert review for the town and indicates the costs could go higher.

The maximum height is set at 199 feet with some exceptions. If the site is within “a scenic area or scenic viewshed” — described as areas visible from Blueberry Hill, French Mountain, The Mountain and Mount Phillip — the applicant is to take steps to preserve the scenic quality.

The U.S. Court of Appeals process includes a court-ordered mediation during which the two sides will try to hammer out a deal. Town officials are expected to develop an approach to that mediation, whether it involves a team of town officials or one person acting on behalf of the town. Residents at the meeting aired concerns that the legal fees could reach $300,000, but Greenan said there are limited avenues Global Tower has available to overturn the U.S. District Court decision.

“We’re not talking hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Greenan said.

Regardless of how the legal fees mount, a few residents suggested any deal with Global Tower must include reimbursement of those fees to the town.

Pierrette Kelly said any agreement must also include a $100,000 payment to the town and a provision that Global Tower erect a mono-pole that is camouflaged as well as possible.

Andrew Cook, who urged the town to select one person from the planning board to work on the negotiations, said any agreement should include payments of $130,000 to the town every year for the next 20 years. Cook also cautioned the town against making any agreement that would violate the new ordinance without approval from voters at a town-wide meeting.

“I think these guys are working us and know exactly what they are doing,” Cook said.

Denny Phillips, a former Planning Board chairman who served during the 15-month proceeding about the cell tower request, said the proposal failed to meet a most basic tenant of the old ordinance, which requires there be a need for the tower.

“They attempted to deceive us on four different occasions,” Phillips said. “The bottom line is these people get paid for building towers. They don’t care who hangs their tower on it or if anybody hangs their tower on it.”

But even if Global Tower never proved a need to build a tower, residents at the meeting claimed the town does need better cellphone coverage. Dan Knight, who works with Rome Rescue, said patients have been endangered by his inability to communicate effectively with doctors.

“We’re in a day and age where things are changing,” Knight said. “Technology is changing.”

Kelly, who said she would be able to see the tower from her home, acknowledged that it would improve cell service.

“I would most certainly welcome having that improved,” she said.

Resident Dave MacLeay said the town can improve cell service without putting a 190-foot tower on The Mountain. He said there is technology available that would improve service by adding devices to existing structures, like utility poles. MacLeay held up maps showing coverage of a tower on The Mountain and one on Hampshire Hill.

“By every measure Hampshire Hill offers better coverage,” MacLeay said. “I think there are a lot of options we haven’t looked at and certainly Global Tower hasn’t looked at.”

Nye, before he was interrupted by the ringing cellphone, said people at the meeting could use their cellphones because somewhere in some neighboring town there is a tower that is likely opposed by someone, but it continues to provide an important service. Yet, at the same town meeting this month, when voters agreed to spend $50,000 to fight the tower on The Mountain, voters argued against more money for the fire chief, roads and education. Nye said the push to reject the tower is being motivated by selectmen and planning board members, many of whom are members of the Belgrade Lakes Association. The association has consistently opposed the tower because it will disrupt the scenescape of those on the lakes.

“We’re spending $100,000 to fight a cell tower,” Nye said. “I think people of the town are paying to fight for BLA.”

But not everyone objects to the tower simply because it could be an eyesore.

Resident Chip Ridky said the tower, if built on The Mountain, would be near his home. He asked who would pay the difference if it turned out the tower negatively impacted his home’s value. Ridky said he has talked to real estate agents and appraisers, none of whom could assure him the tower would not have an impact on the price if Ridky chose to sell.

“Until there’s a tower, you do not know how it will impact property value,” he said.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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