The proposed ‘red balloon’ test for the cell tower will take place on Thursday

Source: Verizon/On Air Engineering, LLC (Note: rendering is illustrative, not a final design)

A key milestone in the city’s plan to raise a new cellphone tower – and increase cellphone reception in Wilton, officials hope – will happen Thursday, September 8when Verizon performs what is called a “red balloon test”.

Verizon is required to perform the test as part of the company’s application for the Connecticut Settlement Council to build the tower. The test typically involves floating a balloon filled with red helium at the tower’s proposed height (123 feet) and taking photos of various locations around the city to determine the tower’s visibility.

Because there is currently a global shortage of helium, Verizon will use an alternative method, raising a crane at the site of the proposed tower to the planned height. The crane will remain in place between approximately 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursday.

Verizon signed the lease with the City last fall for the sector where the monopole tower will be erected, located near the school bus depot in 180 school road.opposite Middlebrook School.

During Thursday’s test, the site will not be open to the public. At Wednesday night’s board meeting, first female selector Lynne Vanderslice said the public should be able to view the crane from Danbury Rd./Rte. 7 near School Road.

In November, Vanderslice announced that the city had signed a contract with Verizon giving the cellular service provider the go-ahead to build a new monopoly cell tower at the school bus depot, and that the next step required Verizon to submit an application to the state.

Source: Verizon/On Air Engineering, LLC (Note: Site layout will be finalized once site survey and facility design is complete)

City officials said they expect the tower to improve some of the cellular coverage ‘dead zones’ in Wilton, and they view the brokered deal as a win/win for Wilton , with added benefits for Wilton’s public safety radio communications.

Service improvements would be expected at nearby school complexes in Wilton and along much of Danbury Road in downtown Wilton, although an exact coverage map will not be available until Verizon submits its required application for a “Certificate of Need” with the Connecticut Settlement Councilwhich governs all telecommunications sites.

At November 1, 2021, BOS meeting, Doug Lo Monteattorney for the town of Wilton at the law firm Bercham Moses, PCdescribes the main provisions of the rental agreement:

  • The deal gives Verizon permission to build a 123-foot monopole cell tower. Preliminary engineering plans submitted by Verizon, including site layout and an elevation drawing, can be viewed on the City’s website. (Although the plans included two options, LoMonte said Verizon would most likely pursue the option with a greater setback to parking.)
  • The annual rent payable to the Town of Wilton will be $30,000. It would increase by 2.75% per year.
  • The lease has an initial term of five years, with four five-year extension options, for a total of 25 years. Wilton can terminate the lease — and, as LoMonte said, make a deal with another carrier — if Verizon doesn’t act in a timely manner. Specifically, Verizon is expected to file an application with the Connecticut Siting Council within 12 months. Based on his interactions with Verizon representatives, LoMonte said he was “confident” that Verizon intended to proceed in a timely manner.
  • Verizon will be responsible for any damage to the bus depot area.

According Director of Land Use Planning and Urban Planner Michael Wrinn, the construction project is not expected to result in significant changes to bus operations, in part due to the additional capacity currently available in the bus parking area. As seen in the preliminary render below, the construction area would be set back from the parking lot and have its own 12-foot-wide driveway.

Source: Verizon/On Air Engineering, LLC

Another plus: public safety radio

BOS negotiations with Verizon resulted in an agreement allowing the City to install public safety radio equipment on the tower.

For a nominal “fee” of just $1 per year, Wilton will have the right to use the tower for future emergency communications needs.

The City needs to upgrade its aging public safety radio system used by police, fire, EMS and DPW. The essentially free use of Monopoly would be a positive factor in the overall cost of the upgraded system, which is expected to be at least $250,000 over the next 10 years.

At the November 1 meeting, Captain Tom Conlon of the Wilton Police Department told elected officials that an additional tower in the city would be a significant benefit, particularly in areas of dense development along Danbury Rd. where coverage issues are known to exist with emergency radio communications. He added that these problems could increase further with new, higher-density developments in the future.

Other Carriers

“Verizon will be the only carrier on the tower initially,” LoMonte told lawmakers. “However, the tower will be designed to accommodate other carriers.”

LoMonte explained that the [Connecticut] The Site Board encourages other carriers to “co-locate”—installing their own equipment on another carrier’s tower.

“If another carrier were to submit a request to the [Connecticut] Location advice to co-locate on this tower, given that it has the capacity, Verizon should accept that. Verizon has no right to say “no, we want this tower all to ourselves”. It does not work like that.

At the time, LoMonte also told the board that it was too early to know if other carriers would apply to co-locate on this tower. “Often the other carriers hold back until construction is underway.”

If other carriers co-locate on the tower, the City would also receive fees from those carriers, under the lease agreement with Verizon.

First Selection Woman Lynne Vanderslice also noted that major carriers are currently co-located on multiple towers across Wilton.