Apponaug will lose a tower and gain a new one.
A village fixture for decades and a reminder of its vibrant past as a manufacturing center, the Apponaug Mill water tower will come down to make way for the Apponaug circulator. With five roundabouts supplanting existing signal intersections, the $33 million road project will enable through-traffic to avoid the village center while restoring two-way traffic to some sections of the area and setting the stage for the village’s rebirth.
While the water tower is an icon of Apponaug’s role in state history as a textile juggernaut, it also has a place in today’s high-tech communications system. With its repeaters, the tower is a critical link to Verizon Wireless and the Warwick Fire Department. It’s no longer a water tower, but a cell tower.
Monday night, the City Council gave second passage to the re-zoning of a small parcel of land between Fire Station I and Police Headquarters for Verizon to erect a 120-foot cell tower. And after extended discussion, the council also unanimously approved a 20-year lease with Verizon that promises to generate more than $800,000 in lease payments in addition to taxes plus a portion of tower sub rentals that could bring in $60,000 a year.
The added city revenues were part of the picture but not the vision City Planner William DePasquale projected to the council.
The new tower looked to be a given when first brought before the council. It would meet the critical communications needs of the Fire Department at no added cost to the city; it would become city property if Verizon left it; and it would bring in $30,000 a year that would increase by 3 percent per year for each year of the agreement.
But then Councilmen Steve Merolla and Joseph Solomon questioned whether a better deal could be forged. They wanted to know what the city was paying Verizon – it turns out to be $110,000 a year – and in addition to $30,000, wouldn’t the company cut the city a better deal? Had anyone asked Verizon; had anyone called Verizon?
DePasquale took on the job of finding out. He looked into the lease and cell phone tower leases and recommended against an agreement to give the city a break on its current cell phone contract. As the city could replace Verizon with another provider in the future, he proposed added revenues come from shared rent from other vendors using the tower.
The tower, however, was only a segment of DePasquale’s bigger picture for the village. In addition to the circulator, which is to be completed in two in a half to three years, DePasquale spoke of capturing $87 million in retail sales through enhanced and new development along a “spine” running between a proposed $22 million, 127-room boutique hotel looking out Apponaug Cove east of the railroad on West Shore Road and the saw tooth building that was once part of the mill. The new tower he sees as part of an economic redevelopment of the village.
DePasquale cautioned if the city failed to move ahead with the tower, Verizon might well look at striking a deal with the state. In that case, the city could not only lose tower rents, but also possibly rent from the police tower. That tower generates $110,000 in revenues.
“I think the city is gaining financially, and this is one piece of an exciting picture unfolding,” said Ward 7 Councilman Charles Donovan Jr.
Ward 8 Councilman Joseph Gallucci, who also serves on the Kent County Water Authority, noted that the authority would coordinate more than $2 million in water line improvements with the road project.
“This is a bargain, both sides have to agree,” said Ward 1 Councilman Steve Colantuono.
But Solomon wasn’t convinced.
He reasoned that after renewals of the lease after 10 years for two additional periods of five years, the arrangement could go on without the city considering to change the terms. He felt it could “fall through the cracks” and wanted a provision requiring Verizon to notify the city before expiration of the lease.
Verizon attorney Joseph Hall saw no problem, and the council approved this amendment as well as one enabling the city to keep all tower equipment, should it choose, at the end of the contract.
Then Solomon observed that Verizon could walk away from the tower at virtually any point. He wanted to lock them in for the 20 years.
Hall, who said he has negotiated many tower leases for Verizon, had not seen such a condition, nor did he believe it necessary.
He said the tower, estimated to cost $250,000, would benefit the city, and Verizon wouldn’t be so “foolish” to walk away from its investment.
“Who would lose? We would lose, not you,” said Hall.
If that was the case, Solomon said Verizon should then be anxious to commit to the terms he was suggesting.
“Why would you object?” he asked.
Hall responded that they both see it differently.
Solomon then introduced an amendment locking Verizon into the 20 years. It failed by a 5-4 vote.
Prior to voting on the lease, even though it lacked his amendment, Solomon said he felt a lease is better than no lease.
“I don’t want anyone to be disillusioned that this is a 15- to 20-year lease,” Solomon said before casting his “yes” vote on the agreement.
The old water tower is projected to come down this spring when construction on the circular starts.