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Resident requests rewrite of telecommunications ordinance
OTISFIELD — A member of a group that has legally challenged the permitting process of construction of a 180-foot-high cell tower on Scribner Hill for the past year-and-a-half, asked the board of selectmen at its May 15 meeting whether it would work with her to rewrite the town's wireless telecommunication facility siting ordinance.
Selectmen agreed to put the Friends of Scribner Hill group on the June 19 meeting agenda to discuss putting an article on a future town meeting warrant to revise the ordinance.
The request, made by Kristin Roy, came just a few days after Justice Robert Clifford dismissed the 16-month lawsuit, issued by the Friends of Scribner Hill.
"We are hopeful that we can work with you to rewrite the ordinance," Roy told selectmen at the meeting, on behalf of the Friends. She said the intent is to give future tower applicants a set of guidelines to follow that works best for Otisfield's residents.
The lawsuit followed the planning board's approval of a cell tower application by U.S. Cellular in January, 2012. At the time, the group claimed the planning board failed to provide proper notification of abutters, follow criteria in the telecommunications ordinance or address residents' concerns about the tower's construction.
Roy reiterated at the May 15 meeting that the group only wanted to provide the town with the best cellphone service with the least visual impact.
"The reason this went to court and the reason there continues to be no cellphone service available to the largest number of Otisfield citizens lies solely on the Appeals Board of the town of Otisfield," Roy wrote in a statement to the Sun Journal last week.
"They [appeals board] chose to ignore admitted mistakes and blatant violations of the town's ordinances on four separate occasions and left us no alternative but the court system."
According to selectmen, Auburn attorney M. Kelly Matzen of Trafton & Matzen informed Oxford County Superior Court in Paris May 7 that U.S. Cellular was returning the permit to the town and that the case was dropped.
According to reports, Matzen said U.S. Cellular decided not to build a cell tower in Otisfield and instead concentrate its resources on upgrading its services across the country.
"It's over. It's done; it's dead unfortunately," Selectboard Chairman Hal Ferguson said of the issue, during the May 15 meeting.
Ferguson told Roy there is a protocol to follow as far as amending town ordinances, explaining the town has an ordinance and policy review committee that is responsible for soliciting resident input and rewriting the ordinance.
Selectman Rick Micklon clarified that selectmen aren't responsible for writing town laws.
"We did say, once we got to this stage ... that we would in fact start addressing these ordinances," Micklon said.
Ferguson said requests for changes to town ordinances must first be submitted to selectmen in writing. They then determine whether the ordinance will go back to the ordinance committee or planning board for review, he explained.
Town ordinances are also reviewed by attorneys at Maine Municipal Association, selectmen said.
"Once it's agreeable, then [the ordinance] would have to go before the town to be voted on at next year's town meeting," said Ferguson.
Ferguson told Roy that every town board meeting is open to the public. While there are currently no openings on the town's ordinance committee, Selectman Lenny Adler encouraged Roy to apply on the town's website.
Ferguson acknowledged, however, that "the way an ordinance is rewritten, in all probability, will not please all the parties."
Resident David Hyer, at the meeting, said he had an "enormous amount of frustration aimed at the legal system."
"This decision was resting within for over a year, and the town's invested over $40,000 and an enormous amount of committee time and personal time," Hyer said.
Hyer said he was mostly frustrated that the town will not receive any feedback from the court on the case. "It's a travesty," he said.
Micklon said the board of selectmen wished, if anything, that the judge would have ruled on the findings of fact the planning board used to support its decision to approve construction of the tower.
"We even prepared to have the judge ... rule on the merits of the case," Adler said. "That cost us a little money, but we wanted to be prepared."