More than an Apponaug landmark – the Apponaug Mill water tower – will disappear when construction on the $34 million village circulator starts in the spring.
Also disappearing will be a vital link in the police and fire communication systems, not to mention a component of the Verizon Wireless network providing cell phone coverage to the region.
Of course, neither the two departments nor Verizon want that to happen. And there is a plan in place, although some members of the City Council believe the city stands to gain more than what the administration has already negotiated.
On Monday, the council approved the rezoning of about 2,500 square feet of land on a hill behind fire headquarters as the site for a new tower to be erected by Verizon. Under terms reached with Verizon, the tower would house police and fire telecommunications equipment at no charge to the city. In addition, the lease calls for Verizon to pay the city $30,000 a year with a three percent per annum escalator clause for 10 years. The lease has an additional four five-year renewal options.
But while the $30,000 is about $10,000 more than what Verizon is now paying to use the water tower, Ward 8 Councilman Steve Merolla questioned Monday whether it is enough. Using his smart phone to access the Internet in the course of the meeting, Merolla referenced a website offering dos and don’ts of cell tower leases and recommended putting a lease out to bid, as well as retaining a consultant to walk the city through the process. He said one lease he had found on his phone yielded $60,000 a year. He speculated for a minimal amount, a consultant could reap additional thousands for the city.
And Merolla pointed out that often multiple companies share a tower. Who would decide who could also go on the tower, and would the city receive additional revenue? Those were questions the city has considered.
Principal planner Richard Crenca said the lease would be revised to give the council the power to approve additional leases on the tower, with a percentage of those revenues going to the city.
At Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon’s suggestion, attorney for Verizon Joseph Hall agreed that the lease include a clause that, should Verizon not renew its lease, the tower be left for the city. Solomon also questioned the value of the equipment on the tower as that would be taxed, generating added city revenues.
Hall didn’t have an estimate on the equipment. He put the cost of the tower at more than $200,000.
According to City Planner William DePasquale, the planning department researched tower agreements in arriving at the proposed lease. The $30,000, he said, is competitive.
“We will work with the City Council on their concerns,” DePasquale said. “We will try to generate as much revenue as possible.”
There’s more than revenue at stake.
Police Capt. Robert Nelson said police radio coverage can be spotty in sections of the city and that having a direct line to a repeater at CCRI is critical. In response to questions from the council, Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong said that fire and police repeaters are not compatible.
Initially, the city proposed that Verizon build a 190-foot tower adjacent to the existing police station tower. In addition to providing police communications, three companies lease space on the tower generating $114,000. The maximum lease is with ATT for $29,000.
On review, the Federal Aviation Administration determined that the proposed tower “punctured” the glide path to Runway 5-23. The proposed tower was then shortened to 120 feet and relocated west to the fire station site. While the FAA has not sanctioned it, as it would be shorter than the police tower, planners feel the tower will be acceptable.
The city Planning Board approved the zone change in November and recommended council approval.
The council gave first passage on an 8 to 1 vote, with Merolla voting in opposition. No action was taken on the lease that would require single passage.
A revised lease agreement will come before the council on Jan. 13, with second passage on the zoning slated for Jan. 22.