After a public hearing on the town’s proposed Comprehensive Plan that had more officials than members of the public attending, the subject of extending cell phone coverage and the Woodstock Town Board’s reaction to it highlighted minor changes to the long awaited document.
“It’s a great sentiment and I know the public wants it, but we’re not in a position to extend anything,” Supervisor Bill McKenna said of a recommendation to improve cell phone service in the western part of town. Signals are spotty to nonexistent past Bearsville. But the service can only be extended if Verizon, or some other company would choose to erect a tower that would cover the underserved area.
The Comprehensive Plan is a guidance document for town operations, including land use, for the next 10-20 years and is the result of many public input meetings and a townwide survey. The plan was presented this summer and will be adopted at a later meeting.
Councilwoman Laura Ricci and others pointed out that lack of service becomes a public safety issue as many new residents don’t have landlines and people report that Verizon is hesitant to extend any landlines down long driveways. “People are desperate to get service,” Ricci said.
Councilman Richard Heppner said while he understands the public safety implications, the recommendation to immediately implement a plan to extend service sounds like the town is committed to constructing more towers. The town will face a lot of opposition to that idea, he said.
“Let’s just deal with what we have and work with what we have,” said Comprehensive Plan Chairman Kirk Ritchey.
Comprehensive Plan contributor Jerry Washington said an existing tower in Olive could provide coverage into Willow in the right configuration.
The Town Board agreed to softening of the cell coverage recommendation. In the draft, it read “Immediately implementing a plan to extend cell service access to the western areas of town using existing cell towers.”
It now reads “Immediately work with cell service providers to develop and implement a plan to extend cell service access to the western areas of town using existing cell towers.”
In the meantime, there are ways to get phone service in non-coverage areas. Most modern smartphones are capable of WiFi calling, which uses your internet service to connect to the phone company’s infrastructure. Most cell companies can provide an extender that mimics a small cell tower, connecting through the internet to complete the call.
A recommendation to separate the functions of building inspector and zoning enforcement officer was also softened to add the words “strongly consider.”
McKenna said that while it is a good idea now, the workload may change in the future and the town should have flexibility.
A full list of changes plus the complete plan is available by following the Draft Comprehensive Plan 2018 link on the town website at woodstockny.org.
Adoption is planned for either the November 13 or November 20 Town Board meeting.