Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cell Tower Proposed for Maspeth House Scaled Back

Panels Now Planned Instead of Tower

By Conor Greene

A proposal to place a 25-foot cellular tower on top of a 72nd Place house has been replaced by a plan calling for several smaller panels, according to the building owner.

A hearing before the city Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) scheduled for Tuesday has been canceled as Omnipoint Communications and Joseph Wroblewski work out a revised contract for the smaller project. “It’s not happening – there is no cell tower,” said Wroblewski, who owns the house at 53-20 72nd Place, next door to Frank’s Deli.

The plan originally called for a 25-foot tower placed on top of a one-story high platform on top of the roof. The 36-inch wide pole would be disguised as a flagpole with an American flag at the top, capped by a gold ball. The entire structure would have risen 56-feet above street level, which many residents felt would not fit into the neighborhood.

Immediately after Wroblewski entered into the contract last year, which would have paid him an undisclosed rental fee each month, residents and local officials began fighting the proposal. The first BSA hearing in January was attended by local elected officials including Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth), along with members of the Juniper Park Civic Association and other groups.

The proposal was voted down by Community Board 5 and has been opposed by Borough President Helen Marshall. Several Maspeth residents also submitted a petition with more than 1,300 signatures from neighborhoods against allowing a cell tower in a residential area.

“We’re really devastated over this,” said resident Hope Stancati told the Forum West in November as the fight was heating up. “We never thought we would have something like that on a two-story house.”

Since the initial hearing in January, several scheduled BSA hearings have been postponed at the request of Omnipoint. This week, it was announced that this month’s hearing was also delayed and that a new plan was in the works. However, unlike the first plan calling for a tower, the new proposal likely won’t need approval from the BSA since a variance isn’t required.

On Tuesday, Wroblewski said that Omnipoint has agreed to replace the 25-foot tower with three panels after realizing how much opposition there is to the plan. Two of the panels would be two feet by one foot, and the third would be six feet by one foot, according to Wroblewski. “I understand that the neighbors very much want nothing, but I don’t think that’s happening,” he said. “I’m not allowed to back out [or] they [Omnipoint]would go ahead with the cell tower... What they propose now is very simple, very easy.

To me, this was huge [to go] from a massive structure down to basically nothing.” One of the big concerns for neighbors was potential for longterm health effects due to the tower. According to Wroblewski, Omnipoint told him there would be “zero health issues” and has offered to meet with neighbors to “prove that your average household items are doing more harm” than the panels would.

Councilman Anthony Como (R-Middle Village) met last week with several Maspeth residents who are fighting the proposal and remains committed to assisting them, according to his spokesman, James McClelland.

“We’re behind the residents,” said McClelland on Tuesday. “Just because they would be smaller antennas doesn’t mean it changes the resident’s concerns. We’re going to work with the DOB [city Department of Buildings] to find out all the information and assist the residents in their fight.”

As of press time, McClelland was trying to find out from the DOB what type of approvals or variances, if any, the new proposal would need.

On Tuesday, Markey suggested that they company is delaying the project due to the community backlash. She noted that it is the fourth time the hearing has been delayed and said that Omnipoint stated that this is the final three-month adjournment they will seek.

“I think this new postponement means that Omnipoint is getting the message about our vigorous opposition to their proposal,” she said in a statement. “I will continue to stand with property owners, community leaders and residents... to speak out in the strongest terms against a plan that is totally inappropriate for a residential area. Markey added that Omnipoint “is seeking to redesign alternatives that might be more acceptable to the community and we are waiting to hear the details.”

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