Property Values at Center of Freedom Cell Tower Debate

Freedom — January 4, 2011 — Property values are at issue as the Freedom zoning board considers a proposal to erect the town’s first cell tower. The board will continue the cell tower talks on Jan. 25. The board felt it needed more time to review new information that North Atlantic Towers submitted at the meeting on Tuesday.

If approved, North Atlantic Towers, a Florida-based company, would build a 175-foot cell tower in the area of 53 Moulton Road. The tower would have room for six telecommunication carriers, including AT&T Mobility. It would also have room to provide a panel for the town’s emergency services.

North Atlantic Tower’s attorney Jonathan Springer, of Springer Law Office, of Portsmouth, is seeking a variance from a restriction that limits the tower height to 10 feet above the average tree height. That is unfair, said Springer, because the average tree height is 40 feet but many trees in the area surrounding the tower are 65 to 70 feet tall.

“If we’re limited to 10 feet above the average tree height, we aren’t above the trees,” said Springer adding that the company had to survey about 2,600 trees to satisfy the town.

Among the new pieces of information was a report from appraiser Andrew LeMay who said he found no evidence that the presence of a cell tower hurts property values. LeMay said there are two types of buyers in the market — buyer A who doesn’t mind towers and wants wireless service, and buyer B who doesn’t want a tower in his view shed and is uninterested in wireless service.

“I’m finding there are more A buyers than B buyers,” said LeMay. “As the technology evolves and cell phones become more prevalent and all these wireless gadgets I don’t know how to run become more prevalent, people are demanding better service.”

LeMay said he conducted a national survey of appraisers. He received 172 replies from 146 communities in 15 states. In the survey he asked these three questions: “Have you observed or are you aware of any loss of residential value due to the presence of a cell tower? Have you observed or are you aware of any appeals filed in the last two years claiming property value loss due to the presence of a cell tower? Have you observed or are you aware of any property value loss due to
ability to see any part of the cell tower from a residential property regardless of distance?” “The answers I got were simply ‘no'” said LeMay.

LeMay said he did the same survey in New Hampshire. He received replies from 26 communities, and again the answers were no.

Zoning board chair Scott Lees asked if there were any appraisers who indicated there was property value loss. LeMay answered that a respondent said she heard claims of cell towers affecting property values because they obstructed views. Springer went over the results of the balloon test that was conducted in mid November. The only place where it was visible from public property was Moulton Road while heading north. The tower wasn’t visible when heading south, according to Springer.

Zoning board members said it could also be seen from Cushing Corner Road, but just barely.

AT&T engineer Kevin Brewer testified the proposed location was better than putting it at Durgin Hill — where abutters would prefer it to go. Projections show Durgin Hill would leave large areas of town uncovered such as the town center because a Durgin Hill tower would partially be blocked by surrounding hills, said Brewer.

Most residents at the meeting were opposed to the tower, but not everyone, Moulton Road resident Jack Baltz said he didn’t think a cell tower would cause Freedom to lose its charm.

“The benefits of having cell service in Freedom far outweigh looking at a tower you have to be totally focused on coming down Moulton Road,” said Baltz adding the tower would allow him to make emergency calls when the power goes out and it would help the police with their communications. Plus, having a tower would allow people to get business calls on their cell phones when they are at home.

But Moulton Road resident Charlie Root had several objections to the proposal. Among them was the accusation that the tree survey ways done improperly.

“It was totally a look-and-guess methodology,” said Root.

Also, Root had concerns with LeMay’s report. Root said he has a 2008 report from an appraiser from Capital Appraisal Associates Inc., of Concord, who took a conflicting position. LeMay is a former owner of Capital Appraisal Associates. Now he heads Real Estate Consultants of New England.

“There are reports from appraisers that say there is a diminution of value,” said Root who said he also had a note from a local Realtor that said towers can hurt property values by 5 to 10 percent.
Also Root said based on the balloon test, the the tower was visible from various places in town such as the cemetery on Old Portland Road and a yard on Cushing Corner Road. Root also had concerns about the noise that the tower’s generator would create.

Moulton Road resident Nancy Ferry was also skeptical of LeMay’s findings. She also said Moulton Road has suffered enough damage since the storm that struck last fall, which leveled a number of trees in the area.

“I have a front row seat to this tower,” said Ferry. “I definitely challenge the property value issue.”

Willo Briggs also disputed LeMay’s “A buyer” and “B buyer” theory. She said his belief could be challenged just by asking the people in the room.

Laurie Morrow said she was opposed to the location of the proposed tower, but towers in general. She said other locations have not been thoroughly examined.

Springer responded to concerns about visibility by saying “we don’t have to be invisible.” He also promised to check on the generator noise issue and other concerns. Springer reminded the board they coudn’t rule on possible health impacts because that would fall under federal law.

The next meeting will be held on Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at town hall.

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