The long odyssey to erect a 110-foot cell tower to improve cellphone coverage in the western part of the Town of Gardiner is apparently over after the Town Board voted 4-1 to approve Wireless Edge’s application to build one at a special meeting on August 2.
Town Board member Carol Richman cast the lone dissenting vote against the two resolutions that would authorize Wireless Edge to move forward on the long-delayed construction of the cell tower next to the Town of Gardiner Highway Department at 630 South Mountain Road near the base of the Shawangunk Ridge.
The first resolution was to authorize a lease agreement for the tower between the Town of Gardiner and Wireless Edge. The second resolution was to grant a special-use permit to Wireless Edge.
The agreement with Wireless Edge is subject to a permissive referendum, which must be presented to the town within 30 days of the adopted resolutions.
A contract with Wireless Edge was signed by a previous Gardiner administration in 2011 and action to get the tower erected was finally started by the company in 2021. A majority of town officials have maintained they had no choice but to move forward with the proposed tower due to the previous agreement.
Following the Aug. 2 meeting, Richman told the Wallkill Valley Times that she doesn’t subscribe to that theory.
“I believe that the lease agreement signed years ago did not bind the Town,” she said.
Richman was not convinced the location that was eventually chosen was necessarily the best place for the cell tower either.
“At this time, any tower will alleviate certain connectivity issues in Gardiner and will address coverage in certain locations,” Richman said. “But our goal should have been to find the best location, not just the one that was available. I think we can do better with newer technology to use monopoles in multiple locations for better coverage, especially now that the US is transitioning to 5G.”
Supervisor Marybeth Majestic, Deputy Supervisor Warren Wiegand and board members Laura Walls and Franco Carucci all voted in favor of the agreements with Wireless Edge.
“I feel that the cell tower is necessary for the safety of both our residents and our visitors,” Majestic said.
The board closed the public hearing on whether to grant a special-use permit for a second cell tower in the town on May 10.
Town residents overwhelmingly voiced opposition to the tower in a series of public hearings held by the Town Board and the Town Planning Board.
The public’s objections were largely that the tower would spoil the views of Gardiner’s scenic Shawangunk Ridge. Many homeowners said the value of their properties would decrease if the tower was erected.
Some residents of the western portion of the town said the tower was unnecessary because they had adequate cell service already.
Wireless Edge maintained throughout the hearings that the cell tower would improve coverage in that part of town through AT&T and Verizon service.
The town hired Radio Frequency Engineer William Johnson to study the current cell coverage and determine if a new tower would help.
At an April 5 public hearing, Johnson said the town’s existing cell tower at Wright’s Farm had already exceeded its capacity. He said the demand for wireless service had increased dramatically during the pandemic with residents working from home and taking Zoom classes.
Johnson said the addition of the second tower would increase coverage in the western part of town. However, he said he expected there still would be no service on the fringes of the town and gaps in the coverage even with an additional cell tower.
That leaves open the possibility the town will eventually require a third cell tower to have complete coverage in Gardiner.
Majestic said she couldn’t predict when construction of the new cell tower would begin.
“It all depends on whether or not the Town Board’s decision will be challenged by an Article 78, or not,” she said. “I would hope that we would have a tower erected in a year’s time, but I am not certain.”