With two councilors absent and others reticent to vote on the issue without more information, the City Council unanimously voted to move a decision a lease agreement to place a cell tower at Bates Woods Park to the next regular meeting on Jan. 7.
The matter was under discussion at a joint meeting of the Finance Committee and Education, Parks and Recreation Committee of the council. Councilors in each committee unanimously sent the matter out of committee, but did so with the understanding that a final vote would take place at the council’s first regular meeting in 2013 in three weeks.
The lease agreement would allow Message Center Management of Hartford to replace a 90-foot light pole at the Sal Amanti Field with a 115-foot tower, with possible expansions increasing the height by another 30 feet. The lights for the baseball field would be relocated to the tower at their current height.
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MCM would lease 4,155 square feet of space at the park to build the tower and associated structures with a monthly payment to the city of $1,600. The company would also pay 25 percent of the revenue from wireless carriers to the city, with estimates of $825,000 to $1.1 million of revenue for the initial 20-year lease period and $3.5 million to $4.7 million if all three 10-year lease extensions are approved.
Chris Gelinas, national sales manager at MCM, said the proposal is being made at the behest of AT&T, which first proposed the tower and selected the Bates Woods Park site after the company initially expressed interest in putting a tower up at New London High School. He said AT&T would be the primary tenant and that the revenue estimates anticipate an additional carrier in the first year and three carriers within three years, with an average revenue to the city of $40,000 a year. MCM has also offered to contribute up to $8,000 toward the planned installation of a 40-foot flagpole at the field.
Councilors John Maynard and Adam Sprecace said they had not received information on the proposal until recently and needed more time to review it before making a final decision. Sprecace also questioned why revenue projections were less than that of a tower MCM proposed for Ocean Beach Park.
“I’m a little concerned about the revenues and that there aren’t more carriers being added on immediately,” said Sprecace.
Gelinas said the Ocean Beach tower would have generated more revenue because it would have been the only option available for carriers wishing to provide coverage to that area. He said that proposal was primarily intended to increase emergency communications coverage in the area and fell through after an agreement between New London and Waterford to bring New London onto Waterford’s emergency system. He said the proposed Bates Woods tower takes this agreement into consideration and that the tower would include New London and Waterford emergency frequencies to prevent interference from other signals.
“A tower at Ocean Beach, as far as we’re concerned, is done,” said Gelinas. “That went away when public safety went away.”
However, Gelinas said an Ocean Beach proposal could come up at a later date and said the company was interested in possibly putting a tower up on the GAM building roof. This was one proposal put forth after residents in the area protested the proposed 140-foot tower as detrimental to scenic vistas and property values.
Gelinas said the company and AT&T are interested in having the lease approved as soon as possible. The tower has already won the support of several boards and departments, including the Parks and Recreation Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission, New London Fire Department, New London Police Department, and city attorneys.
Councilors Marie Friess-McSparran and Dan Macrino were absent on Monday. Council President Michael Passero said he was also interested in moving the proposal forward and proposed moving the matter out of committee so it could be addressed at the next available meeting.
The council also unanimously sent a request by the Parks and Recreation Commission—to have a designated line item in the general fund to deposit rental fees from the cell tower into an account within the Recreation Department—to the Education, Parks and Recreation Committee.