Ashfield cell tower planned for early summer completion

By VIRGINIA RAY

For the Recorder

Published: 02-08-2024 1:36 PM

ASHFIELD — The Planning Board has granted telecommunications infrastructure developer Vertex Towers a six-month extension on its special permit to build a cell tower on Ridge Hill, a project that has been in the works for more than two years.

“The bottom line is the board felt there was strong support for getting this tower into town and people have been waiting for a long time,” Planning Board Chair Rick Chandler said after Wednesday’s meeting, adding that, “the reasons they haven’t gotten started were factors we felt were legitimate.”

Vertex Towers, based in Sharon, now has until Aug. 7 to meet all the mandates of the special permit and start to build the cell tower, the access road to which is off Baptist Corner Road.

Chandler said the 120-foot-tall tower won’t be very visible from Baptist Corner Road.

“It will be more visible from Route 112,” Chandler said.

Conditions of the special permit, some of which took time to accomplish — notably, the design of tower camouflage — must be met before construction can begin.

Another factor contributing to delays was that Town Counsel Donna MacNicol noted a “flaw in the process,” Vertex Towers civil engineer Tom Johnson said during Wednesday’s meeting. MacNicol apparently questioned the removal bond — in other words, what happens if Vertex leaves.

“She asked very intelligent questions no one’s ever asked before,” Johnson said. “We’ve only been building towers for 20 years; no one’s had to decommission one and exercise the bond.”

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The tower has been in the works for more than two years, after initially being proposed for a different site. This site was chosen, Chandler said, because it is a “perfect fit.”

“When mapping was done years ago about how many towers could be in town, this was a prime location for covering more area with the least number of towers,” he said.

Ashfield has one of the shorter windows of time vis-à-vis Massachusetts General Law for companies such as Vertex Towers to “start significant construction” after being granted a permit. Here that window is within one year while in most towns it is a two-year window and, in some places, three years.

Completion of the tower is expected to take three months, to be finished by “spring, early summer at the latest,” Johnson said.

AT&T has signed a lease to put an antenna on the tower and Vertex is talking with two more potential carriers.

Having a carrier in-hand before proceeding is important to the town.

“We’re extra cautious about this because we had one at Spruce Corner and there was no one populating it with an antenna,” Chandler said. “There’s one now, but it took five years and we didn’t want to have that again; it wasn’t going to go up as a speculation project that didn’t have a market.”