American Tower Company, the company that wants to build a distributed antenna system (DAS) to improve cell phone coverage in the three up-Island towns, must apply for 23 individual special permits, one for each antenna to be installed on utility poles around town.

This is the opinion of Mark Bobrowski, a Concord attorney who is special counsel to the town zoning board of appeals. In a Jan. 15 opinion Mr. Bobrowski said the permits are required by the town zoning bylaw.

“I have not been provided with information to suggest that the DAS is anything other than a tower, transmitting antenna or wireless communication facility. Therefore I concluded that the DAS requires a special permit for each node,” Mr. Bobrowski wrote in the opinion.

The company wants to put whip antennas, equipment cabinets and back-up batteries on top of utility poles using existing poles as well as putting up new stub poles, some on public and some on private property.

The current plan calls for 55 node locations: eight in Aquinnah, 24 in Chilmark and 23 in West Tisbury. The plan also calls for stringing fiber optic cable along approximately 1,200 existing utility poles owned by NSTAR. The plan is to boost cell coverage in all three towns.

American Tower has taken the position that it needs approval from the selectmen but not the zoning board of appeals in West Tisbury. Reached by phone this week, America Tower representative Alexander P. Gamota said attorneys for his company are still reviewing Mr. Bobrowski’s opinion. He said the goal is still to have a network up and running by this summer, although it is uncertain whether it will include West Tisbury.

“We’re reviewing our options. We have one legal opinion, and they have another. Clearly there is still some work that needs to be done,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chilmark and Aquinnah selectmen this week unanimously voted to sign contracts with American Tower.

by Jim Hickey