BENTON — A proposed cellphone tower on Benton Avenue has provoked outrage from residents who have petitioned the Planning Board to reject the development.

The Planning Board, at its meeting Tuesday, reluctantly voted to accept a tower application from U.S. Cellular as complete after spending more than an hour and a half questioning the project. The board still needs to have a site visit, a public hearing and an independent engineering review before voting on whether to approve a permit.

“This is not approved to start digging tomorrow,” Planning Board Chairman Lance Shores said. A site visit is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

U.S. Cellular is proposing an 80-foot-high, self-supported monopole tower on land owned by James Carson at 1586 Benton Ave. near the intersection with Neck Road. The tower would be behind commercial buildings on the property, which is in a residential and business area between Benton Avenue and the Kennebec River. An equipment shelter near the base of the tower would be fenced off from the public.

A new tower is needed to take traffic off an overloaded tower in Waterville, said Jim Herbert, an engineer with Black Diamond Consultants, the West Gardiner-based company working on the application for U.S. Cellular.

The Waterville tower was built to field cellphone traffic, but now it has to deal with broadband data, leading to dropped calls and poor audio, Herbert said at Tuesday’s meeting. The proposed Benton tower would take traffic away from the Waterville site.

But residents who live near the tower are not happy about the location, questioning whether Benton Village is an appropriate place for wireless equipment.

Robin Cyr and her brother, Eric Cyr, own homes adjacent to the site. In an interview after Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting, Eric Cyr said that he is concerned about possible health effects of radio frequency radiation and doesn’t like the idea of a big company coming in and doing what it likes in a small town.

“Somebody has to stand up for the little guy,” Cyr said.

Aside from speaking out against the tower at Planning Board meetings, the Cyr siblings have organized to protest the project. In mid-July, they filed a petition at the Town Office with 105 signatures from Benton residents. The signatures were gathered in three days, July 11-13, according to the dates on the document.

The petition asked the Planning Board to deny U.S. Cellular’s application on the grounds that a tower is not consistent with Benton’s comprehensive plan or the surrounding historically significant residential area, is dangerous to safety and health, and fails to meet setback standards, standards for conditional use and performance standards including buffers, external lighting and noise.

The petition is informal and won’t lead to a voter referendum on the tower, but Robin Cyr said she wanted to demonstrate to the Planning Board the depth of public resistance to the project,

“We just wanted to show them that people are concerned,” she said.

Some of the petitioners’ concerns were echoed by board members on Tuesday.

Herbert, of Black Diamond, presented the application last month, but board members wanted more information.

On Tuesday, Herbert produced documents to satisfy the board’s questions, including a report on effects on wildlife.

However, board members have more concerns, including the possibility that the tower could collapse. Board member Roger Averill asked that U.S. Cellular ask Carson to build a fence on his property where it borders a walking trail to keep children from treading into a possible fall zone. Averill also asked the company to build a plant buffer around the tower.

Other board members asked why the company hasn’t considered a more rural area for the tower and questioned the absence of a noise study to measure decibel levels at the property line.

Despite the board’s apparent concerns, Richard Trafton, an Auburn attorney who has worked with U.S. Cellular on tower applications elsewhere in Maine, repeatedly told the board on Tuesday that the application met all the requirements of the town’s land use ordinance.

Site selection was driven by the cellular company’s priorities, Trafton said. Months of work and at least $75,000 already had been invested in permitting and securing a lease to the 2,500-square-foot site, he said. There are also no documented examples of these types of towers collapsing, Trafton said in response to the board’s concerns.

Board members, however, appeared reluctant to accept the application and probably will have more questions and concerns moving forward. Board members unanimously approved a motion by Leo Caron, a board member who lives on Kennebec Drive, requiring U.S. Cellular to pay for an independent review of the project before a public hearing, likely to be held this autumn.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire