A Superior Court judge has dismissed a long-running legal challenge to a 115-foot cell tower on Chappaquiddick, upholding the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s 2017 approval of the project.
In a 36-page ruling issued Monday, the Hon. Paul D. Wilson dismissed an appeal of the commission’s decision brought by nearby landowners Dana and Robert Strayton, saying among other things that the commission was well within its jurisdiction to approve the tower, despite the Straytons’ claims that it adversely impacted their views, safety and property value.
The Martha’s Vineyard Commission, along with landowner Robert Fynbo and AT&T, were the defendants in the case.
The town’s push to construct a cell tower on Chappaquiddick — a remote island with unreliable cell service — dates back at least ten years. After two failed bids earlier in the decade and years of protracted debate about communication systems on the island, AT&T decided to construct a 104-foot temporary tower on defendant Robert Fynbo’s property at 14 Sampson avenue in 2016. The company analyzed more permanent solutions the next year, and decided to build a 115-foot tower on the same small parcel, which was approved by the commission in 2017. A special permit was issued by the Edgartown planning board in 2018.
The Straytons, who live approximately 200 feet from the property, opposed the project vociferously at public hearings and in written testimony. They appealed both permitting decisions.
During the Superior Court trial, which occurred in-person in late October of 2020 and included site visits to Chappaquiddick, Ms. Strayton testified that the tower location, as well as visibility and potential danger, were not adequately weighed in the commission’s decision, and that alternative locations were not thoroughly vetted.
Town officials, including fire chief Alex Schaeffer and IT manager Adam Darack, also testified at the trial.
In his decision, Judge Wilson wrote that despite the relative density of homes in the area, the tower provided the most thorough option for cell coverage on the island. He also said that the Straytons failed to prove that the tower was visible enough to adversely affect them.
“I agree with the MVC that the Sampson avenue site was appropriate,” Judge Wilson wrote. “The facts I have found, based on evidence at the trial, provide no basis to overturn the MVC decision.”
An appeal to a decision from the Edgartown zoning board of appeals regarding the legality of a pre-existing 84-foot tower on Mr. Fynbo’s property is still pending in state Land Court, as is a separate appeal to the Edgartown planning board’s 2018 decision on the new tower.
The current tower was built in 2019 and has provided cell service to Chappaquiddick residents for the past two years.