Thursday, November 19, 2009

Maspeth Cell Antenna Plan Gets Poor Reception

By Conor Greene

An application to place cellular antennas on top of a Maspeth apartment building has not been received warmly by tenants, neighbors and the local community board, but might still win approval from the city.

MetroPCS has applied for permission from the city Board of Standards and Appeals to install six wireless antennas on top of the apartment building at 53-00 65th Place. While cellular antenna proposals are not generally subject to local zoning restrictions, a variance is needed in this case due to existing wireless equipment already located on the roof.

A hearing on the plan was held at Community Board 5’s October meeting, and the board’s Land Use Committee subsequently voted at its meeting the following week to recommend rejecting the application. The full board was expected to vote against the plan at its meeting this past Wednesday night, according to District Manager Gary Giordano.

According to the company’s application, the antennas are needed to close coverage gaps in the area. MetroPCS already has antennas in the area, including on top of buildings on 51st Avenue and 67th Street. However, it is eying the 65th Place building because it is the tallest in the area and already houses antennas for Verizon, Sprint and the 911 system.

“If approved, the proposed facility will offer significant advantages and services to the community with virtually no negative impact on the community,” the company argued in its application to the BSA. “The proposed facility is of vital importance to MetroPCS’ efforts to provide reliable service to the area in question. Without the proposed facility, a significant gap in reliable coverage would exist in the area.”

However, the plan isn’t sitting well with building residents and other community members who are worried about the increasing number of cellular antennas in their neighborhood. “I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Maspeth resident Manny Caruana. “It’s another intrusion into residential areas with these cell antennas. There are already antennas on top of that roof, so it is going to intensify the RF frequencies generated.”

One problem, said Caruana, is that private companies like MetroPCS are given the same latitude afforded to public utilities in these types of applications since they provide a service to the public. “There are no regulations on these people,” he said. “They allude that they are a public utility… but they’re not regulated. I think at some point we’re going to find out we’re being over radiated by these antennas.”

The building owner, Jangla Realty of Great Neck, will be paid by MetroPCS in exchange for providing space on the roof and in the basement for related equipment. Residents accused the company of failing to properly maintain the building, and said that firefighters’ efforts to extinguish a 2008 blaze at the property were hampered by the presence of the antennas and equipment. “This guy just wants to take the money and run,” said Caruana.

A Jangla Realty official reached by phone at the company’s Great Neck office would only say that “they comply with the law” and said the building is maintained, but is still being repaired from the fire. He ended the conversation without discussing the opposition from tenants and the community to the plan.

According to Giordano, the board’s recommendations will be forwarded to Borough President Helen Marshall, who has the opportunity to weigh in on variance applications,before a BSA hearing is held in Manhattan. “It’s certainly a concern for me personally and I think for a lot of people,” he said of the increase in cellular antennas in residential areas. “I think part of the problem is that more and more people have cell phones and are using them as their main phone, even doing away with their landlines. So if you have demand for more service, and service where you can use your cell phone inside your home, there’s no magic, and I think that’s a big part of the issue.”

At the board’s hearing last month, building resident Candida Baez submitted a petition signed by 31 residents from the 60-unit apartment building in opposition to the plan.

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