There is something special about Gardiner. But you know that. That is why you are here. And the Shawangunk Ridge is at the center of that specialness. Remember that the Ridge was saved in “Save the Ridge”? It is a delight for residents and non-residents alike. Hiking, biking, flora, fauna, peregrine falcons, bald eagles and the view.
Oh, that view! There are laws and zoning to protect the Ridge, and the Ridge view. We would never do anything to spoil it, would we?
Well, funny you should ask. Right now, the view is in jeopardy. Serious jeopardy.
There is a proposal to place a tall cell tower on Town property next to the Gardiner Highway Department, up on South Mountain Road between 120 and 150 feet high, depending on whom you talk to.
This tower is proposed by a corporation called Wireless Edge, which erects these towers and leases them out to carriers like Verizon and AT&T. A contract was signed by a previous Gardiner administration in 2011, and action by Wireless Edge was finally started in 2021.
The Planning Board had the first look at the proposal, and passed it on to the Town Board, as it was not in compliance with the zoning. The Town Board must issue a Special Use Permit (SUP) for it to be considered.
The Town zoning laws explicitly forbid this type of project in this location. That determination should not be controversial. This project should be rejected based on the law. Gardiner has very specific language regarding cell towers, or what is called, I kid you not, a WTF (Wireless Telecommunication Facilities)!
WTFs shall not be located in that area of the Town which lies both west of County Route 7 and at or above an elevation of 400 feet above mean sea level. The Town garage, west of Bruynswick Road, County Route 7, is at 408 feet, what the law was written to protect, even though the tower pad is listed at 381 feet.
The maximum height of a WTF is limited to 80 feet. This tower would be from 110 to 150 feet in height.
An Article 78 lawsuit brought against the Town by frustrated residents would be a far greater cost and liability than the consequences of a simple rejection. Either way the Town Board votes, there is high likelihood of a lawsuit.
So how do the neighbors feel? Not too pleased. And that is an understatement. You might have seen the Cell No signs popping up in the neighborhood. There is a Facebook group Cell No Gardiner and website CellNo.org. Over 450 people have signed a No Tower petition on change.org https://chng.it/64ZMqskvJ4.
Gardiner’s a different place
When the lease was first signed back in 2011, Gardiner was a very different place. It was a much sleepier rural town. There have been new homes built right around this tower, with seven new ones on the way. In addition, many owners of formerly second homes now live here full-time. The area has become far more residential. The noise from a cell tower of this type, the humming and droning from generators and AC units, is a great concern.
This is a pristine mountain. “Why are we taking this gift and marring its natural beauty, and once done is permanent?” asks Marty Kiernan. The tower would be clearly visible from the Kiernan Farm, conserved by the Gardiner Open Space Commission at a cost of $880,000 in 2010.
Gabrielle Cody lives with her family on Shaft Road. “Moving here was a dream,” she said. “The beauty, the open space and the wonderful community. It is sad to think that this all could be harmed.”
Annie O’Neill was a part of the Save the Ridge movement. “It has always been environmentalists’ priority to not only safeguard the iconic view of the Ridge,” she said. “But also to protect visitors from intrusive blemishes on the viewshed from above or below.”
Town Highway Superintendent Brian Sticia has been vocal about his concerns over the tower’s possible dangers. His worry is that high winds, which regularly reach 50 to 60 m.p.h. on the Ridge, could whip tower ice and falling debris down on his vehicles and on his employees who work around the site.
The need for the tower
“Following the SEQR negative declaration issued by the Planning Board for the cell tower on South Mountain Road, the Town Board is required to issue a special permit for the project [if approving],” explained Gardiner Town Supervisor Marybeth Majestic. “Essentially, the special permit requires that the cell tower is judged to be in the best interest of the entire community. To do this, the Town Board will focus on the need for the cell tower and its impact on the environment.
“To address need, the Town Board has engaged a radio frequency engineer to evaluate the coverage and capacity of the existing cell tower on Route 208. To address the environmental impact, the Town Board will conduct a balloon test to evaluate the proposed cell tower’s visual impact and will review the extensive file of comments from Gardiner residents, including holding a public hearing in April.”
John Arthur of Wireless Edge provided the following: “The proposed tower is necessary to provide reliable wireless and emergency service, including E-911 services, in the western part of Gardiner. The Town highway property is an ideal location since it is already an industrial use, is adjacent to an electric utility corridor and already has town antennas. By locating the site near the base of the hills, the ridgeline view is protected since the mountain backdrops the tower.
“The monopole will be a small, visible profile and will be painted brown to blend with trees and the backdrop of the Ridge. The top of the 110-foot monopole will be over 1700 feet below the top of the mountaintop, so it will not impact the view of the ridgeline.”
All my neighbors up here on North and South Mountain roads report fine cell service. It is down in the valley like Benson Corners where the dead spots are. At the Planning Board hearing, the Verizon technical experts opined that this tower would probably not even solve that issue, but handle [The] Wright’s Farm overflow.
All want a good signal
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was written to encourage construction of cell services, and gives towns a small window within which a project can be rejected. Although there is much concern over EMF, 5G and health effects, these cannot be a consideration for rejection. The appearance that this was the cause for a project’s non-approval can open the door for a lawsuit.
“My major concern is that the type of radio frequency waves that are used now is different than it was in the Nineties when the law was written,” says Jean Gauthier, a Columbia University professor of cancer genetics whose property abuts the site. “5G is a totally unique and unknown type of energy. Being a cancer researcher, I feel that this still remains a major concern for the health of the community.”
If you poll the members of Cell No Gardiner and tower opponents, I am sure that they would not be anti-cell. We all want a good signal and towers in the right place. Recently, a new tower was placed off Route 208 on Wright’s Farm. Verizon claims that this tower is at full capacity. Why they could not increase capacity has not been offered? In fact, no drive-by testing or deeper study has been performed by the carriers.
Gardiner’s Town Board recently hired a consultant to confirm what and where the need is, and whether this tower will even address those issues. A Verizon spokesperson speaking during a presentation to the Planning Board admitted that this South Mountain tower will not adequately solve the service problem.
On Saturday, April 2 a second balloon test was conducted (the first, conducted just before Christmas, was inadequate). The Town Board wanted fully to observe and photograph the visual and aesthetic impact that a tower would have. Wireless Edge placed a crane truck with two balloons, a yellow one at 110 feet and a red one at 150 feet.
There were neighbors observing and photographing from their properties, nearby roads and even up on the Ridge. Visual impact has been a concern.
The balloons were highly visible from multiple angles, heights, private properties, public roads and trails. Imagine an antenna and equipment that can be as wide as 20 feet up on that pole. This is exactly what the Gardiner law was written to protect.
The negative effects on local property values is also a concern. A couple considering one of the lots on South Mountain Road have told me that because of the prospect of a cell tower it was highly unlikely that they would purchase here.
We local residents are asking the Town Board not to issue a Special Use Permit for the cell tower installation at the Town garage. I am sure that this is a position shared by all the walkers, bikers and children who use the local roads.
The author lives with his four children, cat and dog three houses down from the Town garage on South Mountain Road.