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Historic Preservation Commission Speaks Out Against Proposed Cell Tower

Traveler Street, behind Town Hall, is in the town's historic district, protestors of the cell tower said Tuesday.

Hours before a hearing on a proposed cell phone tower that would be sited behind Town Hall in Southold, members of the town's historic preservation commission turned out Tuesday to voice their objections.

A public hearing on the matter was held two weeks ago on the proposed changes to the town code that would allow for the construction of the AT&T tower; the hearing will continue Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. and a vote will come after the town board has considered all the comments from residents.

According to James Grathwohl, chairman of the HPC , there are no state or federal laws to prevent cell towers on historic sites; the matter is left to local, "grass root" government. 

"Our concern is not about the cell tower itself, although its proposed location is on a registered town historic site," Grathwohl said. "We understand the need for clear and effective wireless communication, especially in Southold hamlet, but not at Town Hall, in the Southold National Historic District. It sets a bad precedent that laws can be changed to gain additional income without preserving the town's historic landmarks."

The small amount of income generated, Grathwohl said, would not be worth "denigrating" the site.

Instead, he suggested another town-owned site be found for the AT&T tower. 

"Had AT&T's original intent to build the cell tower on commercial property north of the railroad tracks on Horton's Lane not been changed to the historic Town Hall site, the LPC would have no concern," he said.

The HPC, he added, unanimously opposed the proposed amendment to the town code.

"The town board's intention was never to desecrate the town historic district," Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said.

The parcel is the only town-owned site that would be applicable under the code change, he added. 

Before any decision could be made, the supervisor said, the visual impacts need to be studied.

"The issue of revenue as being modest is conclusionary," Russell said. "There's not a figure there yet, to draw that conclusion."

Issues such as health concerns of the proposed tower, as raised by neighbors, could be set aside, he added, because another cell tower exists only a few feet away, across the street.

Still Grathwohl pointed out, "Landmarks preservation is good business."

Other members of the HPC expressed concerns that a change to the town code would set a precedent.

Anne Surchin reminded that next year is the 375th anniversary of Southold, one of the oldest towns in the United States. "When you have a goldmine of a historic district, there are intangibles that everyone relates to; this is our sense of place, something that we get by preserving a whole body of architectural buildings. We don't want to do things that will potentially compromise that."

"I think it's the people of the community that make it a special place and one way the town has been successful is to integrate the current needs of society with its historic value," Russell said.

The discussion will continue Tuesday at the town board meeting at 4:30 p.m.
ed finnegan January 29, 2014 at 10:03 AM
i suppose the historic preservation committee has done some good things and there is value in soliciting different perspectives when formulating a decision but to afford these taste marshals any but an advisory role is, for a public official (or a private individual for that matter since the hpc does pass on changes to private residences) a feckless abnegation of personal responsibility...there is value in preserving the past but life is not and should not be rendered static in the interest of mindlessly preserving, as an insect in amber, everything exactly as it once was merely because it once was. a well designed cell tower is not intrusive : the present can, and should with care complement the past... the present can serve as a setting for the fine jewels of the past. look to any number of architectural wonders the world over - many have evolved over centuries the components added over time respect the accomplishments of the past while reflecting the unique and valuable contribution of each succeeding era resulting in a harmonious whole . the proper question is not should the tower be built as proposed but how can the tower serve its purpose while enhancing the site
Ellen Wexler January 29, 2014 at 02:01 PM
Has anyone considered Cedar Beach at the Cornell research site for a cell Tower?

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