Approximately 20 concerned parents and Addison Township residents packed a June 8 Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting Thursday to oppose a proposed cell tower at the northeast corner of Hosner and Oakwood roads, near Kingsbury Country Day School.
Residents and parents are opposed because they’re worried about the potential impact on property values, health and the environment.
Jonathan Crane, the Rochester-based attorney representing Verizon Wireless, delivered a presentation to the ZBA before public comments were heard. He said the communications company is looking to construct a 197-foot-tall collapsible monopole in order to provide better cell coverage to the area as the company upgrades to 4G technologies.
“3G is now inefficient in today’s data world, so that’s why every single carrier is moving to 4G, out of necessity, because people are using their phones for data,” explained Michael Avery, a radio frequency engineer for Verizon.
“3G equipment is no longer being manufactured . . . By the year 2020, it should be widely out of service . . . Once 3G goes away, there’s going to be a significant loss of service here. We also know that 9-1-1 services are already compromised in this area.”
The wireless communications company must first obtain a variance from the ZBA for the placement of the proposed tower, which does not meet the ordinance.
The proposed tower is located on a lot that’s approximately 5.24 acres in size and located 200 feet from the centerline of Oakwood Rd. The township zoning ordinance requires the lot size for wireless communications towers to be a minimum of 20 acres.
Many residents and parents said they feared the radiofrequency (RF) signals that would be emitted by the tower would have adverse effects on the health of students and staff at nearby Kingsbury Country Day School and could potentially cause cancer.
“You look back and what was nicotine in the early 50s and 60s? Nobody knew about the health hazards of nicotine,” said Debbie Renaud, an Addison Township resident. “I don’t think there are enough studies (on the effects of RF waves at) this point to determine what effect these waves are going to have on these children. It’s a bad fit for that area.”
“I’ve been up to rooftops where I’ve been extremely close to antennas and what we’ve found is once you move away from an antennae about five feet, the risk of (RF wave) exposure goes down to almost zero and as you get further, there’s really no risk at all,” Avery later explained.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there is currently “very little evidence” to support the idea that living, working or going to school near a cell tower would increase the risk of cancer. The ACS website notes that, unlike gamma rays, X-rays, and ultraviolet (UV) light, RF waves have a relatively low energy level, which “is not enough to break chemical bonds in DNA molecules.” The site also notes that the levels of RF waves typically present at ground level are “very low.”
One Addison Township resident, Ron Renaud, said he felt the location for the proposed tower would be a “poor fit” and that Verizon should instead consider placing it one mile southwest at Mulberry Hills Golf Course in Addison.
During his presentation, Crane said the golf course is located too closely to an airport landing strip and would not meet coverage requirements. “(The proposed lot) is really the premium spot for our service,” he added.
Crane noted the proposed monopole’s antennae would be located more 500 feet south from the nearest home and approximately 295 feet west from Kingsbury.
The site is also located near a wetland area. The proposed tower would maintain a 25-foot buffer from to avoid encroachment, according to Crane.
Anne Sousanis, who taught environmental education at Kingsbury for more than 30 years, said she worries a tower could have a negative impact on the surrounding wildlife found in the nearby woods and wetlands on the property.
“Kingsbury has been teaching environmental respect, awareness and appreciation for over 40 years. That’s a big deal at Kingsbury,” said Sousanis. “In your ordinance about towers it says (the township) seeks to retain the rural character of the township, the aesthetic quality to minimize (the) impact on the natural beauty… This is one of those areas… and I would hate to see it downgraded in any way.”
Crane said Verizon will be working with wetland experts and that all trees outside of the 40-foot-by-60-foot area where the tower and driveway would be placed would be maintained to reduce its impact on existing wildlife.
Tiffaney Stoehr, the parent of a kindergartner at Kingsbury, told the board she has read studies which suggest that exposure to high levels of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF), a type of RF wave, could be linked with infertility.
“We’re not going to have any generations… we aren’t going to have any kids to come to school because, sorry guys, you won’t be able to give us any children,” said Stoehr.
Kara-Jane Lavoisne, a resident of Brandon Township and mother of a student at Kingsbury, said she was concerned about the safety of the tower and the potential danger it could pose if it should fall.
The school has 260 students, ranging from kindergartners to eighth-graders.
“The chances of this happening are slim, but the chances of this happening are still there and I think it’s too high to even take that risk… I do agree that we need cell towers out there. I just don’t think that’s the right place,” Lavoisne said.
Monopoles, according to Crane, don’t simply fall over. They’re designed to “buckle” and “collapse” upon themselves to prevent damaging what’s around them, he explained in a follow-up answer session.
Another parent, Ivan Lubinski, voiced his concern over whether the tower workers would undergo background checks to make sure it’s safe to have them near children.
Crane later responded the site would not have any full-time employees and would not create any traffic other than the occasional service vehicle. He noted all contracted employees must undergo a background check.
Matthew Papsdorf, an Addison resident, told the board he worries about the aesthetics of the proposed tower and said it would be an “eyesore” if built on the proposed lot.
“I really don’t want to see a cell phone tower on that property because I don’t find them attractive,” he added.
Tom Mecsey, head of Kingsbury Country Day School, said he shared the concern of parents and residents regarding the potential hazard the tower could pose to students.
He also mentioned that Verizon officials should be aware of the lot’s susceptibility to power outages, as the tower would need to be connected to a power cable.
“This is an area where if the wind blows just a little bit, we lose our power,” said Mecsey. “We are always in the zone that loses the power.”
Crane stated the use of a backup generator would help ensure a stable signal from the tower if the area lost power.
More than 300 staff and parents from Kingsbury signed a petition opposing the cell tower, which was submitted to the township.
No final decision was made at Thursday’s meeting. If a variance is obtained, the matter would be forwarded to the planning commission. Both special land use and site plan approval from the commission are required for this tower.
The ZBA is expected to make a decision at its next meeting, which will be held Thursday, July 13 at 6 p.m. at the Addison Township Hall (1440 Rochester Rd.) in Lakeville.