A plan for a cellphone tower on Route 1 in Rockland caused worry among neighboring residents. Credit: Lauren Abbate / BDN

ROCKLAND, Maine — A federal judge has ruled that the city must provide building permits to a developer looking to build a 120-foot cellphone tower on U.S. Route 1, despite objections from the city’s planning board.

Bay Communications LLC and the city reached a settlement agreement last fall that would allow for the tower to be built after the developer sued the city for rejecting the project’s application. But the city’s planning board still refused to grant approval to the project and Bay Communications sought to have the city held in contempt of court.

As part of the final judgment, issued Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker, the city will not be held in contempt of court. But the city’s code enforcement officer must issue Bay Communications LLC a building permit within the next five days, according to the judgment.

Bay Communications sued the city in March 2020 after the board rejected its application for a 120-foot cellphone tower on U.S. 1. The project drew sharp criticism from residents of a nearby residential neighborhood who said the tower would negatively impact the value of their properties.

In its lawsuit, the company accused the city of preventing it from fulfilling wireless service needs. Communications companies are mandated by federal law to provide as sweeping coverage as possible.

The city council expressed opposition to the project at the time it was proposed, but said that settling the lawsuit was the city’s best option.

While the planning board was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, board members said they only learned they were defendants after the settlement agreement was reached and approved by a judge. They weren’t involved in the settlement process, which they objected to.

Earlier this year, planning board members attempted to push back on the settlement agreement by seeking to have their own attorney represent them in the lawsuit.

However, Walker dismissed their attempt in his final judgment.

“The planning board members’ steadfast adherence to their oaths and their umbrage at the city council’s and legal counsel’s contumely is appreciable, though ultimately quixotic,” Walker said in his decision.