RAY BROOK - The state Adirondack Park Agency has approved a plan from Verizon Wireless to build a 129-foot cell tower disguised as a tree in Keene Valley.
The tower will be located behind the Neighborhood House near several tall white pine trees, APA planner George "Skip" Outcalt told the agency's Regulatory Programs Committee Thursday morning. At a height of 129 feet, he said the tower is one of the largest the agency has approved.
A visual analysis of the structure, which took place in August 2008, found the tower will be visible in the hamlet of Keene Valley, but can't easily be discerned from trails and mountains in the surrounding area.
The dark tree, at the center of the photo, depicts what the cell tower will look like.
"It's going to blend into the landscape well from those more distant viewpoints," Outcalt said. "In my opinion, it clearly is substantially invisible."
Outcalt noted the APA's telecommunications towers policy does allow for more flexibility on the height of a tower in hamlet areas of the Park.
Commissioner Richard Booth said the tower fits in well in the hamlet area, and even suggested the agency encourage Verizon to build a taller tower to provide co-location opportunities for other cell carriers.
"What the pictures from surrounding mountains show is the hamlet is very visible, as it should be," Booth said. "The tower doesn't change that. Even a tower significantly higher than this one would not significantly adversely affect the resources of the Park."
If the APA wants fewer, taller towers that provide co-location opportunities, the cell companies need to know that, said Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board.
"I don't think a clear message has been sent," he said.
Commissioner James Townsend disagreed.
"I think our Northway approvals sent a clear message that we prefer two, shorter towers," he said, referring to the recent approval of multiple towers in the same sites along the I-87 corridor.
Agency Chairman Curt Stiles said the APA approved 31 towers last year, 14 of which were co-locations.
"To say we're not looking at co-location would be a misstatement," he said. "This is still a market-driven process, and we have to be responsive to that."
Industry representatives have said the possibility of collaborating when planning their networks is complicated by FCC regulations, Stiles added.
"We can't just keep making towers bigger hoping somebody will come," he said. "We have to look at these projects as they're submitted, make a decision and move forward if we're going to have coverage sooner rather than later."
The committee and full agency board approved the Keene Valley project.
When linked with another Verizon Wireless tower in Keene that was activated last year, the two sites will provide cell phone coverage along most of state Route 73 between Keene and Keene Valley, Outcalt said.
The APA board also voted unanimously Thursday to approve Alan Oppenheim's plan to build 12 condominium units on the site of the former White Stag Inn, located off of state Route 86 in the town of Wilmington.
The Whiteface Overlook project, across the road from Whiteface Mountain Ski Center, includes three two-story structures, each consisting of four condominium units. The condos will be served by on-site septic systems.