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Church works with Verizon to thwart neighbors

Children of Holbrook Against Residential Cell Antennae

CHARCA: Children of Holbrook Against Residential Cell Antennae

In Holbrook, Long Island, New York, a Catholic Church is trying to install a cell tower at their location in the heart of a residential neighborhood. The church was slow in informing the neighbors and the parish members. The community has expressed its frustration through: comments at an information meeting called by the church, with a petition campaign, and with at letter-writing campaign to leaders of the Catholic Church.

The church that is considering installing the cell tower, so that it can get a lease and income stream from the Verizon company, is Church of the Good Shepherd in Holbrook. The church property is on Grundy Avenue, between Trumpet Lane and Coates Avenue. The pastor is Rev. Msgr. Thomas L. Spadaro, known as Father Tom.

In July, Father Tom presided awkwardly–with only himself, a Verizon siting/salesperson and a Verizon scientist invited to take the floor–over an information session for neighbors and parish members. While the church began applying to the Town of Islip for permissions about the cell antennae previous to April 24th 2009, the neighbors were not informed until a letter in July, inviting them to the lopsided information meeting.  Father Tom noted at the meeting that Verizon had approached the church over two years ago.

About 50 adult neighbors and parish members showed up, and a handful of children. A few of the attendees were members of the church committee which was incubating the cell antennae (co-location or monopole) project. Though, most of the people in attendance were against the project.

The neighbors noted that while the US government does not allow questions about health risks in regards to cell tower applications, the neighbors hold those concerns. Towers like these can emit EMF waves and RF Radiation (wireless microwave radiation). Various meeting attendees had found research from other countries about health affects of radio waves. And, one woman pointed out that she does not see research showing safety and health comparison studies for a project so close to homes in a suburban setting. Regardless of the reasons — health, aesthetics, the presence of a for-profit arrangement in a residentially zoned area — the neighbors were against the project.

Proposed monopole at Church of the Good Shepherd Holbrook

Proposed monopole at Church of the Good Shepherd Holbrook. Photo on display at a July, 2009 Verizon/Good Shepherd information meeting.

Information from Town of Islip personnel at the Planning Department seems to note that under some circumstances, the church may not need to ask permission or even inform the neighbors. For instance, if the church does not build a pole, co-locates the antennae on the existing bell tower, and does not need to change parking or other facilities. It seems like the church may have been taking this path in its first communications with the Town of Islip. Though, if a pole is to be built, or if certain changes are made, then the project will go before the Town of Islip Planning Commission. The neighbors plan to attend.

At the information meeting, the conversation seemed to bring up that having Catholic churches put up cell towers is a current pattern and strategy with the companies for locating, and with the Catholic Church for gaining revenue streams in these harsh, economic times. An informal consultation at the Town of Islip Planning Department suggests that town code or law in regards to placing cell towers may give specific advantages to houses of worship and steeples to make it easier for them to erect towers than in the past, and than for other businesses or organizations.

At the informational meeting, the neighbors recalled a Verizon representative saying that a Monsignor Dempsey was the Catholic Church’s official point person and/or liaison on cell towers. Though, the neighbors could not track down contact information for that person. Instead, the neighbors will be sending letters to the following church officials, and to Father Tom at the local church. If you are interested in supporting an effort to have the church slow down on cell towers, give timely information to neighbors and its parish, and cease working with corporations to make a profit in their residential zoning district, you may also wish to contact the following church officials:

Most Rev. William F. Murphy, Bishop of Rockville Centre
Office of the bishop
Diocese of Rockville Centre
50 North Park Ave.
P.O. Box 9023
Rockville Centre, NY 11751-9023
bishops office at drvc dot org
(516) 678 -5800  x400

Reverend Monsignor Robert O’Morrissey, Secretary to the Bishop
same address and phone number
rmorrissey at drvc dot org

CHARCA: Children of Holbrook Against Residential Cell Antennae

CHARCA: Children of Holbrook Against Residential Cell Antennae

Some reasons not to support this project:

-Unsightliness. In order to function, a monopole has to be above the tree line. So, it will be visible in some manner.

-With any cell antennae, there will be required maintenance. So, service people and vehicles will add more traffic to the otherwise residential neighborhood.  And, the church will be attracting traffic which is not part of the consideration for a non-profit/house of worship zoning in the midst of a residential zone.

-Once a tower is constructed for one purpose, it might be used to add other products which may present their own hazards. So, the tower might later be used for things that emit other kinds of waves or radiation.

-Any tower can fall or be blown away in a storm. There is a certain risk to having any tower in a residential area.

-Some people worry about health risks of cell towers based on the EMF waves and RF Radiation (wireless microwave radiation) emitted. An example is that they might cause leukemia in children. We are all exposed to waves, but it might be that a certain amount adds to the stress and risk to our bodies. No one has yet proven that cell towers or EMF waves are safe. There are none or very few studies about cell antennae which are so close to people in a suburban, residential neighborhood, where residents would be exposed night and day, at close proximity to the waves.

-A church is given non-profit status as a gift because they are supposed to help the community and fulfill their mission. Why should a non-profit do something that might harm the community, for the sake of them making a profit? (And, why should the church do something that would even “worry” the community?) (And, why did the church consult only with Verizon personnel and scientists, instead of independent scientists?)

This story was reported by Kimberly Wilder, whose parents’ property adjoins the Good Shepherd property, and who is not pleased about this project or how it is being handled. There will be longer stories about the meeting and the response from the church and the Town of Islip in future posts.

_________

Letter received from the Town of Islip Department of Planning and Development/Division of Engineering and Contracts through a Freedom of Information (FOIL) request by Kimberly Wilder:

April 24, 2009

Structural Consulting Services, PC
xxxxx address
Re:  The Roman Catholic Church of Good Shepherd SP2009-018
TM# 0500-108.00-01.00-017.001

Dear Mr. Fahey,

Wireless communications facilities located in residential zoning districts are subject to special permit approval from the Planning Board and site plan approval in that order. Presently without the Planning Board Special permit this use does not exist and cannot be reviewed. Please contact the Planning Department at 631-224-5450 to submit a Special Permit application.

Yours truly,

Vaidotas A. Bobelis
Senior Site Plan Reviewer

VAB:DA

cc: (Verizon wireless – no enclosure)
_________

Related story at wilderside: here.

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