Thursday, December 4, 2008

City to Decide Soon on Maspeth Cell Tower

Proposal Calls for Antenna on House Roof

By Conor Greene

After more than a year of fighting, residents will soon find out if the city will allow a property owner to place a cellular antenna on top of a 72nd Place house in Maspeth.

The final public hearing on the proposal by Omnipoint Communications was held two weeks ago at the Board of Standards and Appeals, and the board, which votes on projects requiring variances from the existing building code, is expected to make its decision on December 16.

The proposal calls for placing a fifteen-and-a-half foot cellular tower on the roof of 53-20 72nd Place, which is owned and rented out by Joseph Wroblewski. In all, the structure would rise 45 feet above street level. It would be disguised as a flag pole with an American flag on top, and would have a diameter of 32 inches. The house is adjacent to Frank’s Deli, which the Wroblewski family has owned for nearly 60 years.

The original proposal called for a structure rising more than 54 feet above street level, but was met with a great deal of backlash from neighbors and local elected officials. Several months ago, Omnipoint unveiled a proposal that featured six foot high panels instead of the large antenna. However, Wroblewski, fearful of again alienating neighbors, reportedly refused to sign that contract. That plan wouldn’t have needed BSA approval.

Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, sent a letter to the BSA informing the agency that the local board had voted overwhelmingly against the proposal, even with the lower flagpole. He said it is “hard to say” what the likely outcome of the board’s vote will be. “I have T-Mobile service, and when I was standing outside [the proposed location] I used my cell phone and got good reception,” he said, echoing sentiment among residents that the new antenna isn’t really needed.

He noted that according to Omnipoint’s application, a key issue is improving cell reception inside homes and other buildings. However, some residents say that is not necessary because many Maspeth residents are property owners and have land lines.

Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth)has also argued that point as she has helped lead the fight against the plan. In testimony to the BSA, she claimed the Omnipoint hasn’t looked into using other locations in non-residential areas and noted that T-Mobile’s website claims that Maspeth already receives the company’s highest levels of reception.

Meanwhile, many nearby residents are left wondering about potential long term health impacts from living near so many towers. The company has argued that there are no known health dangers associated with cellular antennas, and the federal government has concluded they are safe.

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