As the town continues its plan to raise a new cell phone tower and what officials say will increase cell phone reception in Wilton, Verizon has scheduled a second “red balloon float test” on Friday, Dec. 2.
The test is part of the company’s application to the Connecticut Siting Council to build the monopole cell tower at the school bus depot property at 180 School Rd., opposite Middlebrook School.
Verizon is required to float a red balloon to the proposed height of the tower (123 feet) and take photographs from various locations around town to determine how visible the tower will be.
The company fulfilled that requirement already, performing one test in September. During a public information session held Nov. 2, Verizon presented an analysis of that test and the proposed tower’s visibility. Verizon contends the tower will have little or no visual impact throughout town, although a small number of homeowners, particularly in the area of upper Catalpa Rd. and Richdale Dr., could be more significantly impacted.
Those residents have been vocal about pushing Verizon to repeat the visibility test and include more vantage points in the analysis.
According to a notice issued by the First Selectwoman’s office, the second float test will “allow residents to determine any possible impact now that the leaves are gone from the trees.”
Verizon will take photos from specific private properties as requested by those property owners. Town officials said that Verizon has contacted those property owners to arrange permission to do so.
Like the first test, a crane with a red balloon will be placed at the proposed cell tower location at the Bus Barn from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Dec. 2.
Based on feedback from neighbors during the Nov. 2 public information session, the crane also will be placed at an alternate location within the Bus Barn property from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
A video recording of the entire meeting has been posted on the Town website. Three presentation documents, which include coverage maps and aerial views of the proposed Tower, have also been posted on the Board of Selectmen page.
Verizon signed the lease with the Town in 2021 for the area where the monopole tower will be erected, located near the school bus depot at 180 School Rd., opposite Middlebrook School.
In November 2021, 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.
Verizon seems to have the momentum to proceed with next steps in the process of obtaining the state’s approval for the site.
During the Nov. 2 meeting, Ken Baldwin, an attorney for Verizon, said during the team’s presentation, “If you drive this area on a regular basis, it’s pretty obvious, you run into poor or non-existent coverage. It’s been on Verizon’s radar screen for some time.”
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice has emphasized that the area around the proposed new tower has been one of high dissatisfaction for residents, especially students, staff and parents at the nearby schools and playing fields, as well as along portions of Ridgefield Rd.
She prepared residents at the Nov. 2 meeting for the reality that the need for reliable service for a high number of residents might outweigh the visible impact of the tower on a few.
“If there’s two neighbors where it’s visible, I’m going to be honest, you’re in a tough situation,” she told the residents at the meeting.
Verizon is expected to file its application by the end of year, with construction possible by next summer. Notices of the application and the hearing date will be sent to property owners in the impacted area, and will also appear in local media.
Once Verizon submits an application, the Siting Council review process could take six months to a year. The Council will also schedule a public hearing (which, in recent times, have been conducted by Zoom) followed by an additional, 30-day public comment period.
If approved, a final site plan must be submitted by Verizon to the Council, which would have up to 60 days to give its final approval.