Concluding thoughts and considerations
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the siting and design of cellular locations; what is appropriate in one community may be out of place in another, and the decisions Planning Boards make regarding this issue are important. All New Yorkers experience the visual blight of poor decisions regarding the design and/or siting of these facilities.
Board members should consider the following issues when reviewing applications and/or considering their telecommunications law:
- Design matters; a camouflage solution does not necessarily mitigate visual impacts and can even make them worse.
- Context matters; a solution that is desirable in one place may be undesirable in another place, even within the same town.
- Boards need to weigh carefully the benefits of camouflaging with impacts on co-location and network performance, as some camouflaging techniques may result in additional towers.
- Boards need to fully understand a proposed tower’s impact on visual resources and should have a law that requires applicants to prepare a Visual Environmental Assessment Form, which should lead to a full visual assessment if any potential impacts exist. A full visual assessment includes an inventory of visual resources, viewshed mapping and photosimulations showing how the tower will appear. Boards need to ensure that photosimulations are accurate and verifiable, as they are often merely artist renderings that use photographs a media.
- Consider decommissioning. What happens to the site if it becomes redundant, or if technologies change site is no longer required?
Boards have tremendous power over the design and siting of these facilities, especially if they have implemented a powerful telecommunications law. If the local law in your town is not powerful then work with your Town Board to change it so that it reflect best practices. A good law in a visually sensitive area would include language that requires that all towers use the best reasonably available camouflaging technology.
Finally, applicants have the need to improve their network’s coverage or capacity, which is often a direct benefit to the people who live, work and travel through the community, but these improvements often come at some cost to the community’s visual and/or community character. Planning Boards are uniquely well-suited to understanding the benefits and costs and balancing the needs of all. Hopefully, this document has added to the understanding of the choices Planning Boards have when considering these issues.