None of us wanted it to end up this way. None of us wanted a cell tower in the empty lot next-door to Pizza Hut on Rt. 1, a street where many of us travel every day, a place near where many of us live.
So, how did this reach this point? The Rockland Planning Board rejected Bay Communications’ application to put in the cell tower. The Planning Board knew it wasn’t right for our city in that location, and they made the decision to deny the application, even though they may have suspected that they stood on shaky ground. We applaud them for this action and we respect their courage. Bay Communications, not surprisingly, took us to court. They are not going to give up, even if the City and the neighbors oppose this tower placement. We hired a lawyer, who is a specialist in this area, who went through the first rounds in court. He alerted us that this is a losing battle. We didn’t want to believe that, we hoped for a different answer, and we wanted a second opinion. We hired another lawyer, another specialist in this area, independent of the first – she brought us the same opinion. Why did the City Council agree to settle the case and allow the tower to go forward rather than continuing to fight in court? The reason is that this battle in court is not winnable for the City of Rockland. We all wish it were not true. But this Council is not willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, taxpayer dollars, going to the bitter end with a lawsuit that we have been told is ill-advised. Therefore, we have agreed that the court will order the Rockland Planning Board to grant the permit to Bay Communications. There was no payment either by or to the City for this settlement.
As City Councilors we do not have the ability to go through the entire charter and code and find all the weaknesses that may be there under various sets of circumstances. It is impossible to anticipate every strategic move that entities may make when they have a specific agenda, big plans, and deep pockets. Our job as Councilors is to fix things if we can when they come to our attention, to try to put new things in place that may make situations better, and to do these tasks to the best of our ability.
Much of what we do is reactive. Often we have the chance to be proactive. In this case we will be mostly reactive to this situation, but we hope that also will allow us to be proactive for future applications.
We will react to the fact that we have lost this case in court to Bay Communications. We have strengthened the Ordinance that allowed them to put this tower in a place in our city where none of us want it to be. The City Council is committed to ensuring that the Ordinance will be even further amended to provide our City with the appropriate regulatory “tools” to review future telecommunications facilities applications.
Please know that even if our Ordinances had been strengthened before Bay Communications came looking, we still would not have been able to prevent them from putting up a tower in Rockland. We might have been able to modify the consequences a little, but we cannot prevent towers completely because of protections that Federal laws provide for telecommunications.
We are not the only city or town that has lost this battle – there are dozens of them across the United States that have found themselves in exactly the same boat we are in. That is little consolation, but we can learn from other cities and towns, and keep our eye on the future.