At a heated meeting Wednesday, the planning commission vented its concern about a new ordinance that would impose regulations on telecommunications facilities.
The recent growth of the telecommunications industry in the Northeast Kingdom has engaged many municipalities in a fight for control. The construction of cell towers raises issues of property value, aesthetics and safety.
By adopting ordinances and revising town plans, municipalities can regulate the construction of cell towers despite federal protections, and address these issues on their own terms. Apparently, the residents of Brownington have terms of their own.
At a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, the selectmen adopted an ordinance regulating telecommunications facilities in their town.
On Wednesday, the planning commission wasted no time in tackling the subject.
Commissioner Larry Faust struck the first chord, saying, "We all know what the hot item is," initiating a flurry of complaints.
Among the major concerns voiced was the selectmen & #039;s failure to notify the public that the ordinance was on Tuesday & #039;s agenda. While many board members and residents were unhappy with the ordinance itself, everyone agreed that the selectmen acted too hastily and without including the town.
Selectman John Kudla attended the meeting to answer questions and explain the reasoning behind the board & #039;s hasty action.
Commissioner Neal Perry reminded Kudla that, while it is not required, the selectmen "should always go to the voters."
Kudla explained that the immediacy of the issue prompted him to act. There are three known tower proposals in the town. The ordinance, which passed without the signature of Chairman Michael Glodgett, would be the town & #039;s only opportunity to regulate those, and future facilities.
That, according to Perry, is the problem. In a focused statement, Perry equated the ordinance with zoning, something that the town has consistently rejected.
"As a landowner," he said, "I think I & #039;m losing control."
Board members suggested that residents could benefit from a lease agreement with a facility owner. The ordinance could prevent residents from making that choice on their own.
Kudla listened intently, but expressed concern that a 200-foot-tall tower might disturb adjacent property owners to a much greater degree than a barn or silo.
Perry, however, kept the discussion centered on the basic issue. That issue, according to Perry is "freedom." "This is zoning," he said, adding that by passing the ordinance, the selectmen are "creating bureaucracy, right in the town."
Members also put the first signatures on a petition that would overturn the ordinance. Resident Betty Glodgett came to the meeting upset and prepared with the petition to bring the matter to a vote.
Once the selectmen have signed an ordinance, a petition is the only way to remove it. The registered voters have 60 days to file the petition.
Municipalities throughout the state have been clamoring for ways to control the growth of the telecommunications industry. In many cases, that control is the only way to have any freedom from a federally protected industry.
The residents of Brownington are also interested in freedom, of a different kind.