By Gary Buiso
No matter how patriotically it may be disguised, a cellular phone tower in the middle of a residential neighborhood is still unpalatable, members of Community Board 18 said last week. It is also unwanted. By a unanimous vote, the board told Omnipoint Communications that its proposal for 1595 Canarsie Road should be abandoned outright. The company is planning to disguise the cell tower as a 52-foot “stealth flagpole” atop the two-story property. Because the property sits in an area zoned for residential use, the company will need a special permit granted by the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to build the pole. The board’s Dec. 19 vote strictly advises the BSA, which has official say on the matter. Omnipoint attorney Robert Gaudioso, with the firm Snyder & Snyder, detailed the project for the board. Three small panel antennas will be encased in the flagpole, complete with “a gold ball” on top and American flag, which will be illuminated. A small equipment cabinet, roughly the size of a refrigerator would be located at the base of the pole, he added. “It’s needed in the area to improve service,” Gaudioso said of the tower. Omnipoint was bought in 2000 by VoiceStream Wireless, later named T-Mobile USA. He said all other potential sites in the immediate area are too close to towers already in place, and would not provide adequate coverage, which the company is seeking to expand. “In times of emergency, it is important to provide that service,” he added. The company has not finalized a lease, the attorney said. Typically, the term is for 20 years. The board sided with community groups like the South Canarsie Civic Association and United Canarsie South Civic Association, who both blasted the project as inappropriate for the neighborhood. In a letter objecting to the project, Neal Duncan, president of the UCSCA, outlined a host of concerns, read to Gaudioso by Board Chair Saul Needle. Duncan, in his letter, said his neighbors worry what will happen if the pole somehow becomes unhinged. Gaudioso said structural engineers design the pole so it is not susceptible to large wind gusts, and so that it meets all state and federal guidelines. “The wind requirements are very high for this area and it’s designed specifically for that,” he said. Duncan also wondered if the tower would interfere with any other electronic devices in the area, but Gaudioso said it would not. “It is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission and required to be in a specific frequency. By law, it is prohibited [to interfere].” The attorney said the tower is also safe and would be “well within” federal standards for radio frequency emissions. Dorothy Turano, the board’s district manager, said she had no doubt that every concern would eventually be met. That’s beside the point, she said. “I can sympathize—we all use cell phones. But it should not be in a residential community,” Turano said. Moreover, she said, the health effects of radio emissions are “not conclusive,” she said. “Should we expose our families [to this] when there is so much uncertainly over exposure?” Turano asked. Gaudioso pointed to the American Cancer Society (ACS), whose position is that cell towers are “unlikely to cause cancer.” The ACS states, “Cellular phone towers, like cellular phones themselves, are a relatively new technology, and we do not yet have full information on health effects. In particular, not enough time has elapsed to permit epidemiologic studies.” “There are some theoretical reasons why cellular phone towers would not be expected to increase cancer risk, and animal studies of radio frequency have not suggested a risk of cancer.” “While there is not yet enough information on the health effects, there appears to be, theoretical reasons why cell towers would not be expected to increase cancer risk, and animal studies of radiofrequency have not suggested a risk of cancer,” according to the organization. Cell phone towers have been popping up all across the board, with little residents can do to thwart their arrival because they are allowable under the current zoning, Turano said. The board recently received notice of antennas being installed atop 4211 Avenue K and 9201 Foster Avenue. “There is nothing you can do,” Turano said. But the Canarsie Road case is different, as it must go the BSA, she noted. “This is a unique opportunity for our board to be heard.” Everyone wants good service on the cell phones, but no one wants the towers in their neighborhood, observed board member Frank Seddio. “The real problem we have,” he continued, is that you are sticking this in someone’s backyard.” “We are concerned that a precedent is being set. James Ivaliotis, a member of the Marine Park Civic Association, recalled his neighborhood’s unsuccessful struggle against a T-Mobile tower. “It is not good for the community,” he said. “The tower we have up is 25-feet away from a residential window.” “Granted, the FCC says radio waves are safe, but after 40 years [of exposure] are they safe? There are no 40-year studies in place now,” he continued. Ivaliotis said the side of a tree located near the tower, which sits atop 3524 Avenue S, “is not as healthy as the other side.” “Is it a coincidence? We don’t know,” he said. A hearing date at the BSA has not yet been scheduled.