The Zoning Board of Appeal yesterday granted Verizon Wireless a two-year extension to install a cell antenna on Bowdoin Street on Beacon Hill since the company can't currently erect the antenna because it's engaged in a lawsuit over its construction.
The board routinely grants extensions to companies unable to start projects due to litigation, but what makes this case a bit unusual is that the litigation is between Verizon and the city itself. Although the zoning board approved the antenna on Feb. 27, 2018, the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission rejected it, twice, first on Nov. 15, 2018, then again on June 20, 2019.
The company then sued both the commission and the city of Boston in US District Court in Boston, arguing the commission's concerns that the antenna would be visible from the Beacon Hill Historic District are outweighed by the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996.
At issue is a proposed antenna the company wants to put up atop 37-41 Bowdoin St., a five-story SRO building, to fix what the company says is a current gap in its service on Beacon Hill:
Employing RF engineering principles, Verizon Wireless's RF engineers determined that Verizon Wireless requires a cell site in the area of Bowdoin Street and Ashburton Place in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston in order to fill a significant gap in its wireless services. This gap in service prevents Verizon Wireless customers from reliably and consistently initiating, receiving, or sustaining calls and data transmissions when located within or traveling through this area of Boston. The affected area contains the parking lot behind the Massachusetts State House, various offices, businesses and residences, and heavily traveled local roads and sidewalks.
Verizon says it looked at putting the antenna atop the Ashburton Place state office building but concluded its roof was too high up to reach phones down on the street.
The city's zoning code permits cellular antennas on the building in question, but requires the zoning board to give them a once over, which it did and then gave its approval.
In its lawsuit, Verizon said that after the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission first rejected its proposal, the company installed a mock-up of the antenna on the roof and took photos of it from various locations and concluded it "would not be visible from most of Bowdoin Street or from any other public location in the Historic Beacon Hill District except, at a distance, from a small area at the intersection of Derne Street and Bowdoin Street."
But, the company alleges, when it went back to the architectural commission:
At this hearing, the attorney representing Verizon Wireless attempted to present the revised plans for the PWS facility and the legal justification for the Commission to approve these plans, however, the chair of the Commission did not let him finish his presentation. The chair stated that if the PWS facility was visible at all, it would be denied. The chair also informed Verizon Wireless that there was nothing that Verizon Wireless could do to revise the design of the PWS facility so that it would be approved by the Commission. He also expressed the view that all PWS facilities should be located outside of the Historic Beacon Hill District.
In its response, the city and the commission denied these allegations.
Trial is currently set for Feb. 4, 2021.