Saturday, July 12, 2014

Cell Towers in Old Southwest: Think Hard About It

There's a cell tower in this church steeple.
My buddy Jan Keister wrote the following instructive piece about the opposition in Old Southwest to a proposal about constructing several cell towers in her neighborhood, 2,000 feet apart. At first, I was impulsively opposed to her position because I lived in Raleigh Court for 12 years and there is almost no cell coverage there for AT&T users because of community opposition. I finally moved out.

Old Southwest can cut itself off from modern communication--and those devices are a lifeline to some--if it is not careful, but that does not give the cell companies carte blanche to take over neighborhoods and destroy their character. There are alternatives to the tall, ugly towers they often construct and some of those alternatives, if not lovely, are quite acceptable.

Roanoke's officials must hold the cell companies to account on this and ask for alternatives to the 150-foot-plus tall towers, then look for the best alternative among them.

Here's Jan's letter. It is a reasoned and reasonable approach from a smart woman who cares about her city and her neighborhood:

"On July 10th, neighbors met with Max Wiegard, a representative of Pegasus Tower Company, LLC, a builder of cell phone towers who is proposing to construct a 165-foot tower in Roanoke just off Franklin Road, and next to the Roanoke River. This is a difficult issue; On the one hand, we all want good service for our cell phones and electronic devices, but we don’t want to diminish the beauty of our views of the Roanoke Valley.

"Every citizen at the meeting who spoke was clearly against this tower. Mr. Wiegard explained that Brian Townsend, the Assistant City Manager, has expressed that the City’s preference for providing cell coverage is to use monopole cell towers, such as the one Pegasus is proposing to build. These towers need to be placed about 2000 feet apart to provide coverage in the city.

"I am concerned that despite numerous requests by city residents, alternatives to cell towers are not being considered. When City Council requested that the Planning Department hire an independent contractor to review the issue, all that they got was a study saying that there’s a need for coverage in the area. While that’s nice to know, it would have been better to get some real information about the alternatives that we can use, since citizens clearly don’t want the towers.

"Cities like Montreal use distributed antenna systems instead of towers. These are housed in metal boxes about 2’ by 3’ in size that can be placed on multiple light poles or on buildings, and have been demonstrated to be more effective than towers. You can read about them and see pictures at Wikipedia:

"It’s also possible to use some of these technologies inside buildings, like the one hidden in the steeple of the Unitarian Universalist Church on Grandin Road. The church I work at would love to have one of the small stealth units in it’s steeple, as they would be able to charge rent for having it there.

"Mr. Wiegard admitted that there are alternatives to cell towers that would be used if the city no longer permitted cell towers to be built. However, we shouldn’t expect to hear about these alternative technologies from him or Pegasus, because Pegasus doesn’t provide them; it is in the business of building cell towers. Though Pegasus was required to look into alternatives as part of the application process, they had every incentive to put minimum effort into the process as they have already invested money into the tower building plan.

"Nor is the City required to allow Pegasus to build a tower (per an FCC rule requiring jurisdictions to allow cell coverage devices be installed by cell service providers) because Pegasus is NOT a cell service provider, it is in the business of constructing towers.

"I am asking City Council to approve ordinances that forbid cell towers in the city, and require units and systems providing cellular service to be affixed to existing structures. Further ordinances should be enacted in residential, H1 and H2 districts to ensure that the units are hidden or discrete.

"I have been to numerous meetings about how to increase visitors and tourism to Roanoke. One way is to ensure that we protect the beauty of our valley. City Council is scheduled to review the proposal by Pegasus to build this cell tower at the City Council meeting on Monday, July 21st at 7PM in the City Council Chamber, fourth floor, Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building, 215 Church Avenue, S. W. I encourage all of you to come and speak in opposition to this tower at the meeting; Please arrive about 15 minutes early to sign up."


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