cell tower 1 (copy)

FILE, November 2015: Case Avenue resident Jane Rogers speaks out against the proposed construction of a cell tower near her home as other neighbors look on during the Auburn Planning Board meeting at City Hall.

AUBURN — Allegations that the Auburn Planning Board was superficial in its review of plans to build a 150-foot-tall cell tower near a city neighborhood were dismissed in court Wednesday.

Cayuga County Court Judge Mark Fandrich mostly dismissed the arguments made in a lawsuit challenging the proposed Verizon telecommunications tower, which would be sited on a property owned by the Auburn Industrial Development Authority on Allen Street.

A group of residents from nearby Case Avenue moved in March to take the matter to court.

Represented by the Camardo Law Firm, the group challenged that the tower will have aesthetic and environmental impacts on the area that the planning board failed to properly consider. Petitioners also argued that the project requires an environmental impact statement as part of a State Environmental Quality Review process.

The lawsuit names AIDA, the planning board, the city and tower developer Crown Castle Communications, among others, as defendants. Members of the Auburn Planning Board approved the project in early March.

Following a hearing Wednesday, Fandrich dismissed the claim that the planning board did not take a hard look at the project. He also dismissed the challenge for an environmental impact statement.

The court, however, will review briefs regarding a request for a discovery process to vet evidence directly from individuals involved in the site leasing process — particularly AIDA board members. Through the discovery discovery, the plaintiffs are seeking the court to declare that AIDA improperly executed the site's lease agreement with Crown Castle.

Camardo Law Firm attorney Benjamin Kopp said Wednesday it is unclear whether Andrew Fish, then AIDA's staff executive with the Cayuga Economic Development Agency, had the authority to sign the lease agreement. Kopp said AIDA meeting minutes from the months the agreement was formed are not a complete record of the proceedings.

"We really, truly do not believe we will know what happened at this meeting without further discovery," he said.

Attorneys will reconvene before Fandrich on Dec. 13 to review the request.

Meanwhile, a separate petition, filed with the county Tuesday by the Camardo Law Firm, calls for the planning board to rescind its SEQR determination. The petition claims new investigations — in this case, the emergence of an archaeological study of AIDA properties from August 2016 and the possible existence of wetlands near the project site — require the rescission.

During Wednesday's proceedings, Kopp also claimed the planning board did not fully investigate matters concerning noise levels, aesthetic impact and property zoning regulations.

The board has been represented by Stacy DeForrest, the city's assistant corporation counsel. DeForrest's argument Wednesday cited the planning board's site plan review over a six-month period, which saw members hire a consultant, review aesthetic tests and conduct two public hearings.

DeForrest said she could understand why the neighbors felt so strongly about the issue.

"Unfortunately, that's not a basis for undoing six months of review that the planning board took on," she said.

DeForrest found Kopp's argument for discovery "grasping," saying the only authorization needed in this case is the owner's consent as exhibited by the lease agreement.

AIDA attorney Wendy Marsh, from Hancock Estabrook LLP., told the judge she was concerned with the motion for discovery, she said, without significant basis. She also said AIDA by-laws allow a designee other than the board chairman to authorize a lease execution.

Andrew Leja, Crown Castle's counsel, said the motion for discovery is based alone on speculation.

"It's an amorphous base the petitioners are raising. There's just no substance," he said.

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