Watertown officials hired a David Maxson of Isotrope LLC to study wireless coverage around Watertown. One reason for doing the study was to find out whether any public buildings or property could be a good place for a cell antenna so the town could lease the space to wireless carriers, said Steve Magoon, director of Economic Development and Planning.
The study included driving around town while speaking on a phone from each of the major carriers to test signal strengths, Maxson said.
While many parts of town have good coverage, the study found that the area near the Public Works Facility on Orchard Street has some poor coverage, Maxson said. This could be a spot for a cell tower.
A traditional tower could be installed, or erecting a flag pole with space for the antennae is another option.
“It looks like a fat flag pole,” Maxson said. “Three to four companies could put antennas in the pole.”
One of the flag pole antennae has been installed at the American Legion Post 440 in Newton.
Town officials discussed possibly putting a cell tower at the Public Works facility. A number of residents came out to oppose the idea, primarily due to concerns about the effects of cell phone signals on people’s health.
Finding places to put antennas in Watertown is tricky. Watertown’s cell phone antenna ordinance heavily restricts where they can go, Maxson said. They cannot go on a home or other residential building and must be at least 50 feet away from a residential district, he said.
Antennae have been installed in residential areas, Maxson said, but it requires carriers to get a special permit from the Planning Board.
Town Councilor Susan Falkoff asked Maxson if the town’s ordinance could be changed to make it easier to put up antennae.
Maxson said that is an option, but did not give specifics about how it could be rewritten.
The possibility that cell antennae and towers could have harmful effects worries Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis. She said, however, that she heard that FCC rules don’t allow that to be a factor in approval of an antenna.
Maxson said health effects can be discussed, but “only to the extent of asking and verifying whether the facility complies with federal safety standards.”
The Town Council voted to send the study to the Economic Development and Public Works subcommittees to further explore the issue of cell antennae.
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