About 70 people attended via Zoom the latest installment of the continuing saga of the effort to build two ham radio towers that, if allowed, would be taller than Shelburne regulations allow.
Residents of the 4450 Dorset St. Area, where Zachary Manganello has applied to build the towers, had their say at the meeting of Shelburne’s telecommunication review board, quasi-judicial alter ego of the planning commission, on Thursday, Dec. 17.
Except for one comment near the end of the meeting, speakers opposed approving the application. The meeting was primarily devoted to hearing testimony from neighbors who have hired lawyer Peter Raymond to fight the proposal.
Raymond said Manganello’s assertions, at previous meetings and in his application, that federal regulations prohibit the town from denying his application for ham radio towers is false.
Raymond said, “That’s just not the law as it exists.”
The lawyer cited several cases in which antenna applications were denied, including for aesthetic reasons and potential impact on property values.
Raymond accused Manganello of misinterpreting requirements for “reasonable accommodation” in such permit applications.
“The reasonable accommodation standard has been framed as reasonably accommodating the applicant, but it’s, it’s actually a reasonable accommodation of both interests,” he said. “It’s a two-way street.
Reasonable accommodation in this case is the town’s ordinance that limits towers in rural areas to 35 feet, Raymond said.
In his original application Manganello had wanted to build two 84-foot ham radio towers but amended his application in August to ask for shorter variants.
Kevin Hawko, part of the neighborhood group Raymond is representing, said he has lived on the property that borders the south side of Manganello’s for 10 years.
Part of the reason he and his wife chose to live there is the great views and neighbors.
“We have frequent barbecues and neighborhood gatherings and are hoping to get back there soon after COVID. We really do hope, when all this is done, to be able to welcome Zach and his wife into that community and make them a part of that,” Hawko said.
Hawko said he enjoys living in a part of the town that is zoned rural with Shelburne’s only working dairy farm just down the road.
“To the east of us is preserved land in the land trust. Just beyond that is views of Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump. These views, specifically, were one of the primary reasons we chose to live in this part of town,” he said.
Hawko said he had identified 17 other ham radio operators in town and has checked to see what their towers looked like. All three sets of visible antennas he was able to find, he said, appear to be less than 35 feet tall in compliance with Shelburne’s ordinance.
Maureen O’Brien’s property is the western boundary of Manganello’s property. She grew up on the farm that her family subdivided
The importance of agriculture and tourism to the Vermont economy is demonstrated by the 1968 law banning billboards among other rules, O’Brien said.
She said she would see the towers from her kitchen, porch, patio, sitting at her table or walking in her yard.
“I still just don’t believe the towers belong in this rural district, but I do understand that towers up to 35 feet are allowed,” O’Brien said.
That height, she said, would be comparable to Manganello’s home and trees already on his property, she said.
Another neighbor, Brian Irwin, said he learned of the tower application when he went to a meeting, helping his son with his son’s citizenship in the community merit badge.
He left that meeting confused when he heard there was nothing that could be done to limit the towers and alternatives were not possible. A suggestion of telescoping towers was dismissed right away, Irwin said.
Although telescoping towers may be expensive, Irwin said the process Manganello is going through to get the towers approved is expensive.
“We all have hobbies. We all have to make choices about how much those hobbies are going to cost,” he said.
Luke Hoenigsberg, who lives in a neighborhood just south of Manganello’s property, said no towers can be erected without Federal Aviation Administration approval, for which he said Manganello has not filed.
He added until the information is submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is supposed to be public and transparent, it is not possible to say if the towers are safe for aviation.
David Hedden said he moved to the area 35 years ago and lived next door to O’Brien’s father who farmed the land for many years.
Hedden said during the application process they have heard that Manganello could build the towers someplace else where they would be more acceptable, like an industrial park, and connect to them remotely.
Approving 35-foot-high towers is a compromise that is “the wisest thing to do,” he said.
Manganello said remote control options are expensive and space is limited. After work when he’s ready to use his ham radio, there might not be available space for him.
John Collier, who is not part of the neighborhood group represented by Raymond, felt a live and let live policy would be best.
“In the 1500s people in Holland would have had a problem with windmills. Today, people don’t have a problem with windmills. And I think they add to the culture,” Collier said.