Lenox still has dead zones for cell phones. Now the city is seeking guidance for a master plan to fill the gaps | Berkshires Center

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LENOX — The controversial proposal to install a low-power Verizon antenna in the chimney of The Curtis subsidized housing complex — the highest point in downtown — remains on ice.

That’s because the Planning Board has suspended work on a new wireless communications bylaw while the city searches for a qualified company or consultant. The goal is to analyze the city’s wireless communications needs so that the council can prepare a master plan.

The Lenox Housing Authority, which operates The Curtis for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Community Development, set aside discussion of a request from a Verizon developer to fill the downtown signal gap.

“It has been put on hold until the master plan the city is working on is complete,” said Kim Graham, vice-chairman of the housing authority. “All parties are always interested. It seemed pointless to us to proceed with so many unknowns.

The big picture

The unknowns could be resolved if a company responds to City Hall’s formal request for proposals, currently advertised with a 3 p.m. deadline on Feb. 18.

The goal of the master plan is “to foster robust cellphone coverage and capacity throughout Lenox to meet the business and personal needs of current and future residents, businesses, first responders, and public works personnel,” according to Requirement.

The plan would balance this objective with the aesthetic, historical, socio-cultural, and topographical/geographical conditions of Lenox, with its rural landscapes and the potential inclusion of the Downtown Village on the National Register of Historic Places.

How we got here

The current wireless communications by-law dates from 1998 and is considered outdated. The result of the analysis and the master plan will allow the Town Planning Council to complete a new by-law.

The proposal for a cell tower atop the Curtis has drawn strong opposition from many residents of the low-income housing settlement as well as advocates who fear the health effects of cell towers and antennas.

In response, the master plan will identify not only the sites of any new facilities, but also locations with setbacks for residents and any impact on historic and scenic views.

The Planning Board has drawn up the basis for a revised bylaw, but needs details of land use – including zoning districts and setbacks – and technology, including small cell facilities, to s ensure that signal coverage is effective in underserved areas of the city.

What’s at stake

The master plan document will clearly explain the advantages and disadvantages of current technologies, as well as those in development, to help community and city leaders understand the reasons for the recommended types and locations of wireless communication facilities. .

The information will be presented at public meetings once the analysis is complete. The adoption of the master plan will not require a vote of the municipal assembly, but a regulation will.

Assuming qualified consultants or firms respond with proposals and interview, the city aims to negotiate a contract by March 10.

Among the objectives of the master plan analysis:

• A map and list of current wireless facilities serving parts of the city, highlighting areas of robust, intermittent, weak or no coverage and an explanation of the causes of signal gaps.

• Recommendations on how dead zones could be addressed effectively, efficiently and economically to meet the current and future needs of residences, businesses, first responders and municipal staff.

• At least three proposed coverage solutions to help guide zoning bylaw recommendations for locations to install new wireless installations.

• Advantages and disadvantages of current and developing technologies, including how they might be combined to understand recommended types of facilities and sites.

• Active participation of residents, businesses, first responders and municipal staff in the master plan to ensure that key issues and concerns are heard, documented and addressed.

• Confirm that state and federal laws align with recommendations for antenna setbacks, heights, and power, as well as technology infrastructure and innovations.

why is it important

The Planning Council suspended its new bylaw proposal at a meeting on August 24, 2021 following a series of public sessions that sparked a high-tension debate.

Board chair Pam Kueber cited the city’s hills and valleys, which make it difficult for the city’s only full-power cell tower, behind Lenox Fit on Pittsfield Road, a mile north of the downtown, to reach all neighborhoods, as well as the central business district.

A low-power AT&T antenna built into the belfry of the downtown Church on the Hill helps some customers of this service.

If and when an application for a new facility at The Curtis or elsewhere is revived or submitted, it will be scrutinized by the Planning Board, Zoning Appeals Board and Historic District Commission.

The Curtis, in the heart of historic Lenox, was built as a hotel in 1829, replacing a small cafe with rooms for stagecoach travelers that had opened in 1776. Presidents Lincoln, Grant and the two Roosevelt were among many famous guests at the hotel, which closed in 1976 and was bought by the municipality three years later to be renovated into social housing.

Options for improving city-wide reception boil down to “more low towers or fewer tall towers, determining the right mix while considering issues involving adequate setbacks from residential developments and activity. human,” Kueber explained.

One complication: Current Federal Communications Commission regulations prohibit discussion of the possible health impacts of cell towers when cities consider applications for new facilities.

Last summer, the United States Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, ruled that the FCC must review its health and safety guidelines for 5G and other wireless technologies.

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