Opponents of Verizon's plan to install a cell antenna at the Little League ballfield on Middlefield Road suffered a second blow in as many days Thursday morning when the Architectural Review Board voted to approve the project.
The board voted 3-1, with Chair Lee Lippert dissenting and Vice Chair Randy Popp recusing himself, to approve Verizon's application to install three cell antennas on a new 65-foot pole, which would replace an existing 60-foot light pole. The vote came one day after the Historic Resources Board ruled that the 1952 ballpark should not be listed in the city's historic inventory.
The architectural board's ruling was far from surprising. At a hearing last month, several members indicated that they will support the project, but requested more information about materials and colors of the new pole and the equipment enclosure. This week, after Verizon returned with more details, the board voted to approve the project over the objections of nearby residents.
As at prior meetings, several speakers argued that the new equipment would be unsightly, unsafe or both. Jason Yotopoulos, who lives across the street from the ballpark and who nominated the field for the Historic Inventory, argued Thursday that since the ballpark's construction in 1952, the city has approved close to 20 different "use permits" relating to new equipment, lighting and field modifications. At least eight permits were subsequently violated, he said, with the property owner failing to comply with conditions relating to such things as noise and light. The city cannot simply continue to issue new conditional use permits for the site.
"The bottom line is, ad hoc incrementalism with permitting does not work for our city," Yotopoulos told the board.
Willy Lai, who also opposes the new cell equipment, criticized Verizon for constantly changing the equipment's design and accused the company of creating a "moving target."
"The project needs to freeze," Lai said. "People need to be on the same page."
The sentiment was far from unanimous. Several residents, including Ken Allen, argued at both meetings that many of their neighbors support the Verizon project, which would boost cell reception in the area. The telecom company has also agreed to the architectural board's recommendation that the new pole be 18 inches in diameter. Last month, Verizon was considering building a pole that would either be 18 or 24 inches in diameter.
In their comments, the architecture board emphasized its purview over the controversial project is limited to "quality" and "character" of the proposed equipment. Lippert ultimately voted against the project after his colleagues rejected his suggestion that Verizon make the new pole sky blue, to camouflage it against the sky.
Lippert also expressed concern about the potential of other cell equipment being added to the pole in the future and felt there should have been language addressing what is known as "colocation."
His colleagues, for the most part, focused on the look and feel of the new equipment and decided that Verizon's latest proposal merits approval.
"We are really concerned with the quality and character, and I believe the applicant has done a very good job at minimizing the impact of this facility on the ballfield and had made a number of modifications in response to our comments and those of others," board member Clare Malone Prichard said.
Board member Alex Lew also pointed out that the new pole and cell equipment would be 300 feet from the sidewalk and about 385 feet from the nearest apartment.
"We're talking about a huge distance," Lew said. "It's not something that's in anybody's backyard."