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Hartford Board: No to VTel Tower

Hartford — The Selectboard sided with the Planning Commission Tuesday night in opposing a proposal by VTel Wireless to erect a 90-foot telecommunications tower on Fairbanks Turn in Quechee.

The Selectboard voted unanimously against the project — part of VTel’s initiative to build a 180-site wireless broadband network across the state — finding the proposed location is too densely populated and the tower will have negative visual impacts.

“I realize there may be benefits for some Hartford residents,” said Selectman Simon Dennis, who made the motion opposing the tower. “(But) technology is on the move and there may be other ways for them to gain a signal that would be less detrimental.”

The municipal boards’ opposition to the project doesn’t mean it won’t go forward. The project is exempt from local permitting, and both boards will submit their recommendations to the state Public Service Board, which has ultimate say over the project.

All of the residents who spoke during the meeting opposed the tower. Some said it would have a negative impact on property values, while others said the radiation emitted could cause negative health effects.

“My house has been on the market for three years,” said resident Rebecca Dean. “It is not selling and if you add that tower we are never going to get out of here.”

Resident Patt Taylor expressed similar concerns.

“There will be an impact on property values with this tower,” Taylor said. “The value to the town of Hartford or Quechee is relatively limited.”

VTel Project Manager Diane Guite said the company plans to submit a formal application to the Public Service Board within the next few months to construct a 90-foot, matte gray, single-carrier tower with accompanying antennas. The company would also build a concrete equipment pad, extend an existing driveway to access the facility and install power and telecommunications lines underground and to a new utility pole on the property.

Guite said the tower will extend wireless Internet coverage to roughly 200 underserved or unserved homes in Hartford and surrounding towns.

The roughly 2,000 roof tops the signal would reach could also provide other homeowners with the opportunity to purchase “super low cost high speed Internet” though VTel, Guite said, versus other carriers.

Guite said this tower would broaden connectivity along routes 4 and 12 and Interstate 89, while also helping to interconnect the canopy of towers across the state .

Guite said the company eventually would be able to offer cell phone services and products using the towers. She said the company hopes to launch the high speed wireless Internet service throughout the 180-site network by June 2015.

About 20 houses would be within a quarter mile of the tower, which is to be located at 235 Fairbanks Turn. Selectboard members — Ken Parker and Dick Grassi were absent — said that alone was reason enough to not endorse the project.

“I would be interested in seeing if there was a less populated area that they could build on,” said Selectwoman Sandra Mariotti. “It seems you have chosen a site that is very populated.”

The Planning Commission earlier this month confirmed it will send a letter to the Public Service Board recommending the denial of VTel’s formal application. Now the Selectboard will do the same.

The commission, in its memorandum to the Selectboard , said its main concerns were the pole’s height, which will extend 30 feet above the tree line and won’t “blend into the surroundings,” the lack of a buffer of dense tree growth around the tower and VTel’s poor coordination with town staff when the balloon test was conducted in April, resulting in less-than-adequate depictions of site impact.

VTel had to keep the tower at its height of 90 feet in order to reach a certain number of houses, Guite said.

She said the company looked at co-locating on three existing nearby towers, but all lacked in size or capacity. Guite said Tuesday night that VTel would be wiling to install fences for safety and add trees and shrubbery to help from an aesthetic standpoint.

She also said additional balloon tests could be conducted.

“For safety’s sake, I think a fence here is a good thing,” Guite said. “I think that is an easy thing to add.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.