Residents Dial In On Cell Tower Proposal

Residents Dial In On Cell Tower Proposal

Tower Faces Opposition

If you build it, they will come.

About 50 people from Riverside Gardens and Collingwood Springs showed up at Carl Sandburg Middle School last week to gather more information about the proposal to build a cell tower at Carl Sandburg.

Jim Michaels, who’s with Jackson and Campbell, PC, addressed the group on behalf of the company looking to secure permission to build the tower - Milestone Communications. He presented information about the location of the tower, the height, costs and benefits, and the carriers involved.

Sprint PCS is currently the only carrier looking to locate a cell on the tower, but it is anticipated that at least two or three of the other major carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Cingular, Voice Stream or Nextel) will ask for co-location.

Although it was not required, Milestone decided to conduct a balloon test two weeks ago. “It gives the community an idea of how tall the tower will be,” said Michaels. The projected height of the proposed tower is 130 feet, which would be co-located on an 85-foot light pole, newly built for the athletic field. That height is required for the signal to clear the trees and give continuous service to cell phone users in the area. As a point of reference, the tower that was located in Mount Vernon’s parking lot a few years ago is 100 feet. It was built to look like a tree and blend in with the surroundings. This pole would be an additional 30 feet and would stand above the trees.

Michaels explained that the Fairfax Public County Schools have given their approval for Milestone to pursue securing sites at county schools. To date, towers have been located at Centreville High School, Langley High School, and others. This is part of a master plan that asks cell tower users to: 1. try to minimize proliferation; 2. use public land; and 3. use existing structures.They still have to follow a long and extensive procedure for each site.

First, applicants must meet with school officials and PTA representatives; second, they must submit papers to the Planning and Zoning Commission; and third, they must meet with the local civic associations.

“We get the schools involved. If the parents don’t approve, the process stops,” said Michaels. Representatives from Milestone met with the Sandburg PTA back in December. At that time, Principal Donna Pasteur, PTA President Mark Fratrick and PTA representatives didn’t specifically endorse the building of the cell tower, but agreed to endorse the continued process. This vote was enough for Milestone to move forward and they filed papers with the Planning and Zoning Commission in March.

AT THE MEETING, Pasteur gave two main reasons why she supported the building of the tower at Sandburg. The first was safety and security, citing that during 9/11, most cell phone users were unable to get a signal because of the limited cells in the area. The second was based on the revenue that the school would receive from the tower — $25,000 initially, and $150-$500 per month during the length of the lease, which is 30 years. One resident at the meeting quickly dismissed the idea of safety and security, saying that cell phone lines would be jammed regardless in case of an emergency.

In talking about the fact that the Fort Hunt Road is known as a “dead zone,” one person cited that he had no problem getting a signal with Verizon and Cingular and suggested that people switch to one of these providers. Other residents started asking questions and expressed concern about many things, including the unsightliness of the pole; the danger of radiation; concern about children playing around the utility box and/or climbing the pole; and the noise.

MICHAELS, ALONG with Milestone representatives Chad DuBeau and Len Forkas, addressed all these concerns. They responded by saying that the pole would soon blend in with the neighborhood (case in point-the steeple tower at Aldersgate United Methodist Church is well over 130 feet); there is little or no radiation emitting from the tower; all utilities are underground and there are no footholds on the lower part of the tower; a battery backup would kick on once every week or so, but would not be very loud.

When asked if the tower should be built even higher to allow for future growth, Forkas replied simply, “We ask for what we need.

”Mike Falvey, president of the Riverside Gardens Civic Association, concluded the meeting, asking for everybody present to add their names to a list so that he could make sure that all their voices would be heard at the upcoming meetings.

A meeting will be held with the Mount Vernon Zoning Committee at Walt Whitman High School on Monday, July 1, at 7:30 p.m. On Wednesday, July 10, there will be a public hearing at the Fairfax County Government Center. For more information call 703-620-2555.