Neighbors of a Stony Brook firehouse say a 130-foot-tall cellphone pole there has become a tower of trouble.
The pole was erected about five years ago behind the fire department’s Stony Brook Road fire station. Fire officials said at the time the tower was needed to improve emergency communications.
But some residents say the pole is a thinly disguised commercial cellphone tower used by telecommunications giants T-Mobile and Verizon. The residents say the tower violates town codes by sitting too close to their homes.
"It’s problematic," said Linda Obernauer, of nearby University Heights Court, who said the tower sits about 36 feet from her property line. "It’s not enjoyable sitting out in my yard. You can’t have a barbecue knowing this might be a [tower] maintenance day."
Obernauer, her husband, Jay, and three neighbors have demanded Brookhaven Town authorities take action. The town says the pole is legal.
Thad Holsberg, chairman of the Stony Brook board of fire commissioners, declined to comment and referred questions to the district’s attorneys. Mineola lawyer Peter Garone, who represents the district and the cellphone companies, did not respond to calls seeking comment.
In a November 2012 letter to the Brookhaven Town Board, fire officials said the tower was "important to meet public safety needs and will directly benefit the members of the community served by our fire district." The town in 2013 waived a site plan review because the pole would be used for emergency communications.
The Obernauers and their neighbors — Pei Ching, Mowder Lin and Rose Marie Marcello — filed a lawsuit in 2015 in state Supreme Court in Riverhead against the fire district and Verizon and T-Mobile, which have mobile phone equipment on the tower. The lawsuit sought a court order to remove the cell tower and award hundreds of thousands of dollars to the plaintiffs.
In court papers, lawyers for the fire department and cellphone companies said the tower complies with all local laws.
The parties are due to appear in court Dec. 10.
Obernauer and her neighbors, in a Sept. 15 letter to Brookhaven officials, called the tower "an enormous eyesore" and asked the town to cite the district for code violations. They said they believe the pole’s purpose is for commercial cellphone transmissions.
"It’s not being used for a government purpose," their attorney, Amanda Disken, of Wantagh, said in an interview. "It’s being used for a commercial purpose. ... We believe the town of Brookhaven was misled by the applicant."
In an Oct. 5 letter, Brookhaven assistant town attorney Deirdre Cicciaro said the fire district "followed all proper and necessary steps" to build the tower and obtain approvals for commercial uses.
"The fire district is not in violation of town code," she wrote. " ... Thus, no enforcement action is necessary at this time."
Obernauer said the dispute has left her frustrated with the town and with fire district officials.
"They have a big piece of property," she said. "They could have put it anywhere. Why did they have to put it there?"
Neighbors of a Stony Brook fire station say they object to a 130-foot cell tower because:
It is less than 100 feet from their homes, which they say puts them in danger of falling debris;
The tower violates Brookhaven Town code;
It is used primarily for commercial purposes by Verizon and T-Mobile;
The pole reduces the values of neighboring properties.
Brookhaven and the fire district counter that, arguing that:
The pole benefits the community by improving emergency communications for firefighters and other first responders;
It received all necessary approvals, including a town building permit and certificate of compliance, and permission to add commercial cellphone equipment;
It does not violate town codes.