DRB Hears Request for 200 ft. Communications Tower on Dorset Street

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Wednesday March 11, 2015

Residents of Nicklaus Circle are used to seeing a 150.5 ft. water tower in their backyard, but what would a 216 sq. ft., 9 ft. tall support structure and 200 ft. communications tower look like in addition to that existing water tower? That was the question at hand at the Development Review Board meeting on Tuesday, March 3. The Champlain Water District came before the board with a sketch plan application (#SD-15-05) for a planned unit development to amend a previously approved plan for a 2.1 million gallon storage tank at 1215 Dorset St.

In addition to these amendments, the applicant proposes to remove — with a separate Zoning Permit application for demolition — another existing city-owned water tower about 110 ft. in height, a shed, and associated guide wires on the adjacent Isham property. Furthermore, CWD proposed to install an 8 ft. fence--with 7 ft. of it consisting of fencing and 1 ft. of three-strand barbed wire apron on top. A new gravel drive area will also be located to the side of the new tower.

Currently, the water tower — located in the Municipal Zoning District — has existing whip antennas on top of it to provide communication services to CWD, South Burlington Police, and South Burlington Fire and Rescue. The proposal seeks to remove the communications tower from the existing water tower and erect a 200 ft. tower for maintenance purposes and as a matter of public safety.

The cost of the project is estimated to be $350,000, half of which is paid by CWD and the other half by the city.

After hearing the proposal, the majority of board members were in favor of the height waiver for the tower and the overall plan in terms of public safety, even though many were not on par with it aesthetically.

“You could fill books with things I don’t know about water tower maintenance,” board member David Parsons admitted. “If the water district feels it’s better to not have the antenna fixed to it and a tower of some kind is necessary for public safety, I don’t know any alternative options.”

“I struggle with the scale of it, but it’s all public safety,” board member Jennifer Smith said.

“I don’t think anyone will deny that you’re not going to see it, but I think that given the existing water tower right there as being a solid mass lattice structure, I suspect it’s going to become background noise….It would be one thing to put up a tower in the middle of an expanse which did not have a current structure right now,” board member Mark Behr added.

Chair of the board, Tim Barritt, on the other hand, was not convinced.

“I don’t hear a good enough argument for having to build a tower when the water tower itself is an excellent base for the antennas,” he said.

Not all residents in the area are convinced either, as of yet.

“If it’s $100,000 to do the maintenance, $350,000 to do the construction, with a $250,000 differential, I don’t understand how we’re saving money,” said Jim Antell of Nicklaus Circle.

Jonathan Bloom of Nicklaus Circle and Secretary of the Highland Community Association, posted on Front Porch Forum to enlist the support of neighbors to join as a united group to oppose the project. “There is no reason the maintenance work cannot be done with the antennae left in place, or the use of a commercial crane,” he wrote.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent