Verizon Wireless Small Antennas Cause Some Stir in South End

By Beth Treffeisen

Plans to install six small cell antennas by Verizon Wireless in the South End has sparked some concern among  residents who feel like they have been left in the dark as to why these antennas seem to be popping up everywhere.

At a South End Landmarks District Commission (SELDC) hearing Verizon Wireless was granted permission to install four out the six small antennas proposed, with two being continued and remanded to staff until further details are checked and discussions happen with the community.

“This is a big thing,” said Craig Spait from the Ellis South End Neighborhood Association. “These are inside a historic district, and if we are going to continue to have a halmark of a district that shows in our streetscape – this is an outlier, it looks ridiculous.”

The locations of the approved small cell antennas are at 480 Albany St., 175 Northhampton St., 536-550 Harrison Ave., and 585 Massachusetts Ave.

The small cell antenna at 77 East Berkeley St. was continued in order to further examine the width of the sidewalk and have a chance for a discussion with the community.

In addition, the 599 Columbus Ave. location was continued and asked to be moved further west to a location outside of the district boundary, and further away from a residential location. Verizon Wireless representatives said they would look for a new location and send the final decision to staff.

Verizon Wireless has received permission to install these small-cell antennas from the Public Improvement Commission and Boston Public Works. Since some of the small cell antennas are located within the protected zone of the South End Historic District they need further permission from the SELDC.

Currently in the South End there are small cell antennas from Externet Systems running along Tremont Street at 11 locations, Columbus Avenue with 10 locations, and the Southwest Corridor with six locations. Mobilitie has one small antenna on Dartmouth Street.

Verizon Wireless has currently one small cell antennas on Harrison Ave, near the Ink Block and one on the corner of Northampton Street and Columbus Avenue. There is also one not far away on the corner of Huntington Avenue and Gainsborough Street. Verizon Wireless has other locations scattered throughout the city, as well.

These three companies lease space to wireless providers to expand their network and the growing demand for data on smart phones and other devices.

“This is a public benefit despite it being a private company,” said Chair John Amodeo. “If there is a public benefit we do sometimes weigh that in, but I don’t think anyone on the Commission would say these are well proportioned, but there’s not a lot of [design] options.”

Some residents voiced concern over the design of a few of the poles, especially the 77 East Berkeley Ave. location, which features a concrete stand, with a LED light and antenna encased above.

Residents said they would rather see a decorated acorn light-post, as seen in some small-cell antennas in the Back Bay and Beacon Hill.

“It looks like every light pole along Columbus Avenue and Tremont Street have been targeted, and we might come to a point in the future when it comes that no historic original light poles exist,” said Amodeo. “It’s going to change the entire landscape of the South End.”

Representatives from Verizon Wireless said that the Department of Public Works asked that the light poles match the existing pattern along the street. There are plans to update the light poles to the more eye-pleasing, historic-nature, acorn posts in the upcoming years. If that happens, Verizon Wireless will have to update their design to match.

In addition, residents voiced that the base of the new light pole would clog up the already narrow sidewalk, making it harder for those in wheelchairs, walkers or even carrying groceries to pass.

Verizon representatives Wireless assured that they couldn’t have gotten their permit unless it met the City’s requirements.

“There was very little notice to the neighborhood,” said Jeanie Gorlovsky-Schepp, a resident and member of the Old Dover Neighborhood Association. “But whenever someone has to get a zoning variance, they come before us at the neighborhood meetings and explain their pros and cons.”

She continued, “We got a notice only because we are abutters, but we have no idea what is going on and nobody has had a chance to ask questions…it feels like Verizon is not following some rules.”

The Old Dover Neighborhood Association sent a letter saying that the association did not have time to come to a conclusion on the impact these small-cell antennas will have on the neighborhood because they don’t have enough information to go off of.

They asked that Verizon Wireless visit an upcoming neighborhood meeting to answer questions from the community and go further in-depth on why they plan on installing them.

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