Residents of a Pittsfield, Massachusetts neighborhood brought their frustration with a construction project to this week’s city council meeting.
Shack Town is a residential neighborhood located in southeast Pittsfield on a hillside overlooking October Mountain State Forest. Its inhabitants’ ire has been raised by a recently built Verizon cell tower at 877 South Street. The project – approved for a special permit in 2017 by the city’s zoning board of appeals – has led to organized protest, lawsuits and on Tuesday, a host of calls into the virtual Pittsfield city council meeting.
“This is a neighborhood that most of you have gotten to know well in the last few months because you have come to realize as all of us have is that this neighborhood has been failed by the city of Pittsfield,” said Tricia Farley-Bouvier. Shack Town counts the 3rd Berkshire District State Representative among its residents.
“I also want to let you know that in my day job, I’m certainly willing to work with council to see what steps have to be made at the state level to be able to facilitate better notification and better permitting process for abutters and certainly abutters at more than 300 feet and certainly provable notification,” said Farley-Bouvier.
“I’d like to know why we were not notified about the cell tower as Tricia Farley-Bouvier mentioned put in our neighborhood and not being at least 1,600 feet from residents’ homes," said Monique Rose. She said neither she nor her neighbors received mail informing them of the project, and questioned why the 150-foot tower was allowed to exceed height limits of 35 feet.
“I did not receive any notification about this tower, and if I had, I would have attended those meetings and I would have pushed back against it in this location," said Courtney Gilardi. “With cell tower exposure, it’s nonstop day and night, and there’s been no published scientific study about the cumulative biological effects of all of the radio frequency radiation that’s now present in our environment. And until it can be proven safe or somebody can tell me that my family is safe being less than 400 feet from this tower, we need to exercise the precautionary principle.”
“I think it’s highly plausible that the office of community development and the zoning board of appeals felt that they did their jobs completely and fully – a cell tower was proposed, no one from the neighborhood spoke against it, the project should move forward," said Dan Bouvier. “But I’d like you all to entertain the possibility that there may have been several dropped balls in the process, and how that would impact the validity of the project itself. There are several ways that the city is currently supposed to inform residents about coming construction projects in their neighborhood. The city and/or those involved in the construction are responsible for meeting not some but all of these requirements to inform neighbors.”
He said all 300 foot abutters of the tower should have received at least three notifications of the project and that notifications should have posted throughout the neighborhood before a balloon test for the site. Bouvier and his neighbors said those steps were not followed.
“These are the times where our elected officials – you – must stand up on our behalf because we are those who were not given a voice in the process,” Bouvier told the city council.
“I’d like to see improvements in the permitting process, especially in regards to special permits with the advent and installation of registered mail to ensure that abutters receive those mails. Increased distance for abutter notification from the existing 300 foot," said Gareth Coco. “I would like to see improved community notification of those using the city’s website in a more convenient way of finding that, text messages or call-around systems. I would like to see that lapsed permits are not allowed to just be rubberstamped in being redone if they lapse, they should go through a full permitting process again so that people who have moved into the area or changes in regulations are applied.”
The city council voted to refer a petition from Councilors Christopher Connell and Patrick Kavey to the community development board that would implement a 1,600 foot setback from residential structures for wireless communication facilities and require notification for all abutters within that distance with certified mail. A second petition calling on Pittsfield to restart its permitting process for the 877 South Street tower was described as legally impossible by the city attorney.
Verizon did not respond to a request for comment.