Neighbors Share Cell Tower Concerns With Select Board

Reading, MA — The Select Board listened to concerns from the neighbors and abutters of the Auburn Street water tower on Tuesday night October 20. The tower, which is scheduled for replacement, is home to antennas for three different cell phone carriers and some local emergency services communications equipment. At issue is the proposal to construct a temporary cell tower on the site to hold the antennas until the new water tower is completed. A previous Select Board had suggested that a permanent cell tower on the site would be preferable for security reasons. After a brief presentation regarding the project by Town Engineer Ryan Percival, the board opened up the conversation to public comment.

Jackie McCarthy and Mark Delaney represented a group of neighbors and presented their objections for close to 30 minutes. Complaints included the lack of need for a tower, the propriety of this type of structure in a residential neighborhood, potential harm to the neighbors, property value issues, the use of town funds to support billion-dollar businesses, and concerns regarding the process.

Multiple other abutters to the site spoke as well. Dan O’Keefe suggested that the town should not be solving problems for the cell carriers. “The impetus is on carriers to provide service for their customers,” O’Keefe stated. Amy Ward expressed concern over quality of life in the neighborhood. “There is no way you can dress [the cell tower] up and make it look pretty.” She stated. Several other neighbors pointed to concerns over their property values.

“Please consider our safety and our investment in our property.” Mark Lacey urged.

Several alternative options, including temporary “cell on wheels” systems, were suggested to provide continued cell coverage for the time that the new water tower will be under construction, which could be for up to two years.

Members of the board also expressed their concerns. “I have significant reservations about the turn this has taken.” Member Vanessa Alvarado stated. “It seems like we are trying to solve [the cell companies] problems for them.” Member Karen Herrick shared similar concerns. “I would like to stop trying to solve the carriers’ problems.” She shared.

Frustration was also expressed by board members that neighbors were not informed regarding the June Select Board agenda item on the topic when such notification had been promised in 2018. “I lament that [proper notification] did not happen.” Member Anne Landry proclaimed. Alvarado agreed, “The town has repeatedly failed at [transparency with residents].” She declared. “We cannot keep functioning like this.”

Member Carlo Bacci suggested that the carriers be given a date for the beginning of the water tower project and let them decide what to do. Chair Mark Dockser followed this with suggestions about advice from town counsel and continued conversations with the carriers. The board will expect regular updates from town staff and anticipates a vote on a plan to move forward in December.

The Select Board voted 5-0 to keep the tax classification split the same as the last two years, with a .998481 residential factor. The board unanimously voted against an open space discount, a residential exemption, and a small commercial exemption.

Town Clerk Laura Gemme reported that over 1,000 early voters have cast ballots in the last three days, and over 10,000 ballots were sent to voters in the mail. 

Gemme shared that some voters may have received ballots in the mail that did not request them. Gemme advised that a voter could destroy the ballot and vote in person at early voting or election day. 

Early voting would continue at the library until October 30. The last day to register to vote is October 24.

The Select Board adjourned at 10:40 pm.

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