New Paltz Town Planning Board members have reached a point in reviewing the Homeland Tower cell tower application that seems to be unfamiliar to nearly everyone involved: writing a findings statement, the last step after an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared. Even with one member having served for over 14 years, no one on this board has participated in this step, which is where the EIS is reviewed to determine if the mitigations laid out will be enough to offset whatever environmental damage is being caused by approving a project. Consultants for Homeland Towers LLC are equally mystified; having to prepare an EIS for a cell tower application is itself highly unusual. Part of what makes cell tower applications more interesting is the so-called “shot clock” which creates firm deadlines to ensure that no one drags their feet in reviewing these, as they are considered to be infrastructure projects important to entire communities. However, the state-mandated environmental “hard look” must still be taken, and New Paltz board members did not shy away from requiring an EIS when they felt it was necessary for the review.
Board attorney Rick Golden, who is familiar with drafting findings statements, was the one who suggested having the applicant provide a first draft in order to get the facts organized. According to Golden, a findings statement should lay out what’s occurred between the creation of the draft and final versions of the EIS, and lay out how board members believe proposed mitigation steps will address all of the significant impacts. For this application, significant impacts include those to tree and animal populations.
Since the findings statement was drafted by the applicant’s consultants, Golden pointed out that “a lot of it is not in your voice,” and additionally, “some of it is argumentative.” That means some rewriting will be called for, which should come naturally from a careful review of the document. The attorney suggested board members confirm that the issues laid out in the findings statement are correct — this is usually done by comparing to the original scope for the EIS — and that the mitigation measures being offered seem like they will address them adequately. Ultimately, the findings statement will have to be certified in one of three ways: that the impacts are all mitigated, or that not all of the impacts are mitigated completely, or that some of the impacts can’t be mitigated at all, but the rest are mitigated completely.
Given how much is needed to do, the applicant agreed to allow board members to discuss this in depth on September 13 and approve the findings statement on September 27. The “shot clock” is intended to keep things moving, and the applicant can opt to allow more time rather than suing in court if it’s felt that a good-faith effort is being made.
After all of that, there still can’t be a vote on approving this tower in September. That’s because this application also requires a use variance, which must be decided at a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting first. Since the Planning Board is lead agency for the environmental review, this next step must be taken before that ZBA action. If the variance is granted, Planning Board members will then get to decide if a new cell tower will be built at 60 Jansen Road.