South Portland’s Board of Appeals has granted a series of variances to T-Mobile, which will allow the company to build a new, 120-foot cell tower at Highland Memorial Cemetery.

The board agreed last week that T-Mobile had met its burden of showing that there is a significant gap in coverage in that area of the city and that there is no reasonable alternative for the location of the tower.

Ricardo Sousa, an attorney with Prince Lobel Tye in Boston, represented T-Mobile at the March 25 Board of Appeals meeting and said under the federal Telecommunications Act, each cell carrier has a right to build its own network.

He said the new tower, which needs site plan approval from the Planning Board, would also provide co-location services to other cell companies and that any money it received from leasing space on the tower would be shared with the cemetery. The Planning Board has not yet scheduled a meeting on the final plan,

The cell tower required the approval of the Board of Appeals because such facilities are not normally allowed in residential zones and because T-Mobile also needed a height and side-setback variance.

The tower, which will be a monopole design, may not go up for another couple years, according to a T-Mobile spokesman, and when it is constructed, Sousa said, the Federal Aviation Administration has said it does not need to be lit.

Richard Connolley, who spoke on behalf of the cemetery, told the Board of Appeals that allowing the 30-year lease with T-Mobile would “be of real benefit” and “go a long way toward ensuring (its) future.”

Board of Appeals member Aaron Hackett agreed with T-Mobile that more wireless coverage is needed on outer Highland Avenue saying, “I live in the area and the coverage is not good.”

Highland Memorial Cemetery is located near the transfer station and the intersection of Crestview Drive and Highland Avenue. It was founded in 1925 as a public cemetery and consists of about 14 acres of land.

The 7 acres closest to Highland Avenue have been developed, while the remaining acreage, which is heavily treed, has stayed undisturbed. The plan is for the cell tower to be placed toward the rear of the cemetery where it would be screened from the road.

No one spoke against the cell tower at last week’s meeting, although neighbor Stan Jordan was concerned about how the tower would impact the view from his windows and said he did not want it to “become a visual monstrosity.”

– Kate Irish Collins

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