AUBURN | Members of the Auburn Planning Board have authorized a consultant to review controversial plans to build a cell tower near a neighborhood.

The board is being asked by company Crown Castle to approve site plans to construct a 150-foot tall telecommunications tower on a plot of land along Allen Street near Case Avenue.

The property is owned by the Auburn Industrial Development Authority. The proposal first came before the planning board last month. Over the past few weeks, more than a dozen residents have expressed concerns to both the planning board as well as the Auburn City Council.

Around 15 neighbors — mostly Case Avenue residents — were present for the monthly planning board meeting Wednesday as members authorized city officials to hire a specialized consultant to review the technical aspects of Crown Castle's application.

Senior Planner Steve Selvek said the city will hire the consultant. Crown Castle, he said, have the option to veto the choice since they will be charged with the expense.

Selvek said he is unsure how long the consultant will need to review the application.

Wednesday's action came after board chair Sam Giangreco opened another public hearing on the proposal. A hearing was held last month, but Giangreco said he wanted to give neighbors another opportunity after several stated they were given late notice about previous meeting.

Many Case Avenue residents have questioned the tower's placement, which is just north of several property lines on Case Avenue. Jane Rogers said she is worried her property values will drop with a tower "across the street."

Other residents have taken issue with potential health issues associated with cell towers, though Selvek said the board cannot consider these in making a decision due to the Federal Communications Commission's Telecommunications Act from 1996.

Crown Castle representatives said the tower is needed to fill needs for Verizon cell coverage and capacity in the Auburn area — particularly in Aurelius and Throop — as well as the Daikin Applied facility. Residents, however, are questioning this need.

"It's not doing anything for the city of Auburn," said Case Avenue resident Ron Quill, who questioned AIDA's intentions. "That's the bottom line."

Neighbor Karen Walter added, "I don't have a problem with being a good neighbor. Not at the expense of my own neighborhood."

Attorney Andrew Leja, representing Crown Castle, said the Allen Street site was identified as the most ideal among other alternatives that were phased out due to several factors.

"Are there other places within the general area we could place the tower? If we had a willing seller and if the topography was right, yes," he said. "But at this point, we haven't been able to identify anything within the search ring that, again, accomplishes the goals of what we need without stumbling into some other kind of obstacle."

Nevertheless, board members and staff requested for Crown Castle to provide additional cell coverage maps featuring municipal boundaries and proof of impact on neighboring property values for the board's consideration as the process remains ongoing.

Staff writer Greg Mason can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or greg.mason@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenMason.

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