A key step of the town’s plan to raise a new cell phone tower — and increase cell phone reception in Wilton, officials hope — will happen Thursday, Sept. 8, when Verizon performs what’s known as a “red balloon test.”
Verizon is required to perform the test as part of the company’s application to the Connecticut Siting Council to build the tower. The test typically involves floating a red helium-filled balloon to the proposed height of the tower (123 feet) and taking photographs from various locations around town to determine how visible the tower will be.
Because there is currently a worldwide helium shortage, Verizon will use an alternative method, raising a crane at the site of the proposed tower to the anticipated height. The crane will remain in place between approximately 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday.
Verizon signed the lease with the Town last fall for the area where the monopole tower will be erected, located near the school bus depot at 180 School Rd., opposite Middlebrook School.
During Thursday’s test, the site will not be open to the public. At Wednesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said the public should be able to see the crane from Danbury Rd./Rte. 7 near School Rd.
In November, Vanderslice announced that the town had signed a contract with Verizon giving the cellular service provider the green light to construct a new monopole cell tower at the school bus depot, and that the next step required Verizon to submit an application to the state.
Town officials said they expected the tower to improve some of the cellular coverage ‘dead zones’ within Wilton, and that they considered the negotiated agreement a win/win for Wilton, with additional benefits for Wilton’s public safety radio communications.
Service improvements would be expected in the nearby Wilton school complexes and along much of Danbury Rd. in central Wilton, though an exact coverage map will not be available until Verizon submits its required application for a “Certificate of Need” with the Connecticut Siting Council, which governs all telecommunications locations.
At the Nov. 1, 2021, BOS meeting, Doug LoMonte, an attorney for the Town of Wilton with the law firm of Bercham Moses, P.C., outlined the key provisions of the lease agreement:
- The agreement gives Verizon permission to construct a 123-foot monopole cell tower. Preliminary engineering plans submitted by Verizon, including the site layout and an elevation drawing, may be found on the Town website. (Although the plans included two options, LoMonte indicated that Verizon would most likely pursue the option with a greater setback from the parking lot.)
- The annual rent payable to the Town of Wilton will be $30,000. That would increase by 2.75% per year.
- The lease has a five-year initial term, with four, five-year extension options, for a total of 25 years. Wilton can terminate the lease — and, as LoMonte said, enter into an agreement with another carrier — if Verizon doesn’t act in a timely manner. Specifically, Verizon would have to file an application with the Connecticut Siting Council within 12 months. Based on his interactions with Verizon’s representatives, LoMonte said he was “confident” Verizon intended to proceed in a timely way.
- Verizon will be responsible for any damage caused to the bus depot area.
According to Director of Land Use and Town Planner Michael Wrinn, the construction project is not expected to result in any significant changes to bus operations, in part due to the extra capacity currently available in the bus parking area. As seen in the preliminary rendering below, the construction area would be set back from the parking area and would have its own 12-foot-wide accessway.
Another Benefit: Public Safety Radio
The BOS negotiations with Verizon resulted in an agreement to permit the Town to install public safety radio equipment on the tower.
For a token “fee” of just $1 per year, Wilton will have the right to use the tower for future emergency communications needs.
The Town is required to upgrade its aging public safety radio system used by police, fire, EMS and DPW. The essentially free use of the monopole would be a positive factor in the overall cost of the upgraded system, which is expected to be at least $250,000 over the next 10 years.
During the Nov. 1 meeting, Wilton Police Department Capt. Tom Conlon told the selectmen that an additional tower within the Town would be a significant advantage, particularly in areas of dense development along Danbury Rd. where coverage issues are known to exist with emergency radio communications. He added that those issues might further increase with new, higher-density development in the future.
“Initially, Verizon will be the only carrier on the tower,” LoMonte told the selectmen. “However, the tower will be designed to accommodate other carriers.”
LoMonte explained that the [Connecticut] Siting Council encourages other carriers to “co-locate,” i.e., to locate their own equipment on another provider’s tower.
“If another carrier were to file an application with the [Connecticut] Siting Council to co-locate on that tower, given that it does have capacity, Verizon would have to accept that. Verizon does not have the right to say, ‘no, we want this tower all for ourselves.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
At the time, LoMonte also told the board it’s too soon to know if other carriers will apply to co-locate on that tower. “Often, the other carriers hold back until construction is underway.”
If other carriers do co-locate on the tower, the Town would receive fees from those carriers as well, under the lease agreement with Verizon.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice also noted that major carriers are currently co-located on multiple towers throughout Wilton.