A United States District Court has ruled that the Islip Town Planning Board did not violate federal telecommunications law in denying T-Mobile’s special permit request to build a cell tower at Camp Edey in Bayport.
“This is a major victory,” said current Islip Town Planning Board Chairman John Schettino, who was a board member at the time of the proposal.
Schettino announced the legal decision at the Bayport Civic Association’s (BCA) meeting Tuesday night. The ruling, which came after a two-year legal battle, was issued on September 21 by United States District Judge Arthur Spatt of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York.
Bob Draffin, civic president, said the legal decision represented a “David versus Goliath” victory.
The BCA played a key role in fighting the proposal and Draffin's protests are noted several times in the 56-page legal ruling.
“It shows you can go in and fight even if the cards are stacked against you,” Draffin told the civic group. “The planning board made a courageous vote,” he added.
The courage came in the eleventh hour of the application process, according to the legal ruling documents, as the planning board initially indicated it was inclined to grant permit.
As Schettino related, the planning board was told in the early application stages by town leaders to approve the project but that several planning board members had serious reservations, including him.
“I had to do what I feel is right in my gut and so did other members when it came time to vote,” he said.
The cell phone tower project began in 2007 when T-Mobile submitted an application for modification of land use to put up the 120-foot monopole in the Girl Scout Camp.
In August 2008 the first of two public hearings were held. Draffin, as well as 11 other residents, testified against the proposal citing a slew of concerns from air traffic issues, aesthetics and that the tower was not needed for T-Mobile customers.
The lawsuit decision cites Draffin’s objections in detail:
In particular, the resident highlighted the efforts to “preserve Bayport’s ‘heritage’ with organized beautification efforts”, and argued that the placing the Proposed Facility in Camp Edey would “destroy” the “essence of these fine efforts”.
According to the legal documents, following the public hearing the town’s planning department staff prepared a report for the board, in which it recommended granting the application.
But the planning board voted no after a second public hearing, on January 21, 2010, where the BCA had once again stated the community’s objections.
A month later T-Mobile filed a lawsuit claiming the decision was not based on proper legal standing and that the board's decision was a “capricious” and “arbitrary decision’ that violated federal law.
The legal decision document states that the United District Court found substantial evidence to “support the board’s conclusion that the Proposed Facility would have an adverse aesthetic impact on the community," and “was not arbitrary and capricious.”
“This is a civic victory and we have a lot to be proud about,” said Draffin. “It shows that people really have a power to influence decisions in our backyard.”