By Jann Wiswall

The Ellicottville Town Planning Board meeting on Feb. 25, 2013, opened with a public hearing on the request from AT&T/New Cingular Wireless to amend its special use permit allowing the company to replace its existing antennas with new antennas on a tower on Jackman Hill Rd. in Ellicottville. Town engineer Mark Alianello and Town Planner Carol Horowitz reported that they had found no environmental issues related to the project, but that a tower condition survey had revealed some issues that needed attention.

AT&T’s representative Michael Baroody said that Global Tower Partners (GTP), which owns and maintains the tower, has agreed in writing to make all repairs and would begin immediately after AT&T’s work is completed.

The planning board agreed to this plan and asked that GTP confirm with the board in writing that it had completed the work.

Next on the agenda was consideration of the Glen Burn Trail subdivision final plat. At its January meeting, the board noted a number of issues that were outstanding before approval would be granted. Horowitz reviewed that list with the board, saying that all but two issues had been adequately addressed: The board still needs County Health Department sign-off and the Homeowner’s Association document draft needs a more detailed budget to ensure there are enough funds available to meet the maintenance requirements set by the board.

After discussion, the board moved to conditionally approve the project with those two conditions and another 18 conditions that must be met as the project progresses.

Under new business, the board was asked to review an application for a minor subdivision within the High Meadows Road subdivision off Bryant Hill Road. The original approval for this subdivision was given in 1989. While zoning has changed since then, the board determined that the requested subdivision of three lots still meets all zoning ordinances, so the board gave approval to reinstate the lots as presented.

The final item on the agenda was brought to the board by Phillips Lytle attorney Morgan Graham, who represents AT&T in western New York.  Graham, who is making the rounds at village and town board meetings all over the region, was there to explain a new federal law that requires municipalities to simplify their processes related to equipment upgrade requests from wireless companies such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and others. Simply stated, when there is an existing tower with equipment a company wants to replace or upgrade and no “substantial change” to the tower or site is required, municipalities “may not deny, and shall approve” those upgrades.

Graham explained that the law, known as “Section 6409,” is part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. The law, which extended unemployment benefits and tax cuts, also amended the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to speed up wireless companies’ abilities to install transmission equipment that improves bandwidth around the country. The law provides that companies still need to apply for building permits to do the work, but requires towns to perform an administrative review instead of a formal review. The purpose is to speed up the process so that the technology involved in the changes doesn’t become obsolete during the approval process.

Town Attorney Kathleen Moriarty noted that the law is vague in that it does not define “substantial change.” She recommended that the planning board develop language that both meets federal law and municipal interests. After breaking for executive session to discuss the consequences of the change in process, the board determined that the town’s building official and the town engineer would administer the process, if they determined that the changes proposed did not constitute a “substantial change.” In the event that a substantial change is determined, the request will go to the planning board for approval.

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