There's an echo in Cos Cob and North Mianus, and it's not the cell phone reception.
Not in my backyard is the refrain being heard in both places, where opposition to a proposed cell tower project and its reincarnation is mounting and threatening to put the two neighborhoods at odds.
"I think it's unfortunate we're pitting North Mianus versus Cos Cob against each other," Selectman Drew Marzullo said. "I don't think that's fair at all."
Just days after learning that the town is considering leasing a small plot of land in the Montgomery Pinetum preserve in his Cos Cob neighborhood to T-Mobile for a cell tower, Marzullo publicly confirmed his opposition to the proposal -- with one major proviso.
"Me opposing the cell tower in Montgomery Pinetum is by no means me supporting the cell tower (in North Mianus)," Marzullo said.
Town officials worked with T-Mobile to identify the alternative site after the wireless carrier's initial proposal to erect an 80-foot tower in the form of a flagpole on Palmer Hill Road next to North Mianus School ran into overwhelming resistance this spring and summer from parents and other residents, as well as the Planning and Zoning Commission.
If that alternative site were to fail, however, the fear in North Mianus is that T-Mobile could resume its original proposal, which would go to the Connecticut Siting Council for ultimate approval.
"As far as we heard, if another site is not proposed to T-Mobile they will come back to the Palmer Hill site," said Robert May, chairman of the District 12/Havemeyer delegation of the Representative Town Meeting, which includes North Mianus.
First Selectman Peter Tesei, who promised to help T-Mobile find another location for the tower after opposing the first one himself, said it is highly unlikely the town can block both sites, the first of which is on private property owned by Fred Durante Jr.
"The reality is, if it's not here, it will be over at Durante's," Tesei said. "There's no question about that."
Tesei said that there were no other viable properties available in the area to help T-Mobile address a so-called gap in its coverage.
May said he hopes the two neighborhoods can put their heads together to come up with a third option, however.
"I would hate to see `a not in my backyard' thing start up between the neighborhoods,'" May said. "I would just not want to see that. It would just not be healthy."
Buddy Kitselman, whose daughter is a North Mianus kindergartner and whose wife is a third-grade teacher there, said he is worried the town is running out of options.
"Unfortunately, the town is kind of handcuffed in what they can do," said Kitselman, who called cell towers a necessary evil.
A message seeking comment was left Monday for the Bridgeport lawyer who represented T-Mobile during the zoning review process for the North Mianus project.
"None of us are trying to pit district against district," Boutelle said.
As much as North Mianus residents were opposed to the initial proposal, Boutelle said Cos Cobbers object to Montgomery Pinetum as a site.
Open space advocates and homeowners have argued that the construction of a cell tower on the property betrays the sanctity of the land, which was given to the town as a gift by Col. Robert Montgomery in 1953.
The 91-acre preserve and park, which is rich in hemlocks and located in a watershed, was never intended for a commercial project, they said.
Terms of the lease call for T-Mobile to erect a 157-foot cell tower on 5,625 square feet of town property at 129 Bible St., which it would lease for 10 years with the option to renew for an additional 20 years in two segments.
The wireless carrier would require an additional 450 square feet for electrical equipment on the site, which is currently used as a leaf-composting area.
The town would receive $2,500 in monthly rent that would increase annually by 3 percent, as well as 20 percent of any income generated by the subleasing of space on the tower to other carriers by T-Mobile.
"I've given a lot of thought," Marzullo said. "I question the legality of it. I question the intention of Colonel Montgomery and what his wishes would have been."
Marzullo said the town should work with its state legislators to look at the authority of the Connecticut Siting Council.
In anticipation of a January vote by the Board of Selectmen on the Pinetum site, the town is setting up a comment box on its Web site.
But in the end, Tesei said he won't let public opinion cloud the facts.
"No, because we don't run government by applause meter," Tesei said.
Staff writer Neil Vigdor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 203-625-4436.