Pending court ruling doesn’t halt Ontario tower project in Italy

Julie Sherwood
Italy Town Supervisor Brad Jones, in red, and Town Board members held an emergency meeting at 8 a.m. Monday to try to stop Ontario County from erecting a new radio communications tower on Shay Road.

Ontario County isn’t backing down and the Yates County Sheriff’s Office won’t stop work on a radio tower that has raised controversy in a case that pits town home rule against a county’s rights.

Ontario County and Italy town officials are awaiting a ruling in state Supreme Court over the county’s decision to erect a new radio communications tower on Shay Road on Parish Hill in the Yates County town bordering Naples. Town officials said Ontario County ignored town laws and illegally went ahead with the project that violates local zoning. There have been several hearings in Yates County in front of Acting Justice W. Patrick Falvey, but no ruling has been made.

That did not stop Ontario County from beginning to erect the tower this week.

Ontario County Administrator John Garvey said the county is not halting the project while waiting for a ruling.

“We are not waiting for the court,” he said. “The county position is that it is correct.”

In an emergency town board meeting this week at the site, where the county had already broken ground on the project, the Italy Town Board passed a resolution declaring a “stop work order,” requiring “that all work at the Shay Road site must cease immediately.” Within hours, trucks arrived with equipment and work began on erecting the tower despite the town’s “stop work” signs and Town Supervisor Brad Jones alerting the contractor and asking for enforcement from the Yates County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Ron Spike said Monday he does not have the authority to stop the project unless he gets a court order to do so.

“If there was a court order, then this office would ensure it was complied with,” Spike said.

Italy Supervisor Jones said the county never even sought the proper approvals. Town zoning regulates the siting and construction of communications towers and requires site plan review and a special-use permit before construction. According to town officials, the tower will violate several zoning regulations, including for maximum height and setback requirements. The new tower is 1,800 feet from the site of an existing tower, though zoning requires a 8,000-foot setback, Jones said.

“The county has no mandates whatsoever to build this new tower,” said Town Board Member Fred Johnstone. “The county never went through the process — they bypassed due process.”

Resident Jonathan Kost who attended the site meeting said he is furious the county is ignoring the town.

“How dare they treat us this way?” said Kost. “It’s a David and Goliath situation,” he added, referring to the county wielding its power over the town. “It’s power out of control.”

Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy says the tower could eventually benefit Yates County. There have been discussions that once the tower is complete, the property could be deeded to Yates County and some emergency communications could be switched from the other tower to the new tower, saving over $36,000 in lease fees.

Yates County could also save another $28,000 in lease payments that are now made to Ontario County for space on a tower Ontario County owns if an agreement can be made between the two counties.

But first, the new tower needs to be built.

Includes reporting by Gwen Chamberlain

Tower parts arrived on the site Monday morning after the town passed a resolution to stop the work at the Ontario County's tower site on Shay Road.