Cell phone tower idea draws neighbors' worry
Effects on health, property values are key concerns
Residents of Kensington's Byeford neighborhood are petitioning against a T-Mobile cell phone tower the Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church is considering installing on its property, citing concerns of possible negative effects on public health and property values.
At least 260 signatures against the proposed tower installation have been gathered on a petition circulated by the neighborhood. Allison Alexander of Kensington said she signed it and encouraged others to do so because data is still inconclusive about the effects of radio waves on human health.
"The standards are all over the place, which suggests that we're not sure what the effects are," Alexander said. "If people even perceive that there is a health risk that is associated with this, now perception becomes reality and that affects our property values."
The Rev. Roger Fritts of the Unitarian Universalist congregation said no decision has been made and the community's input will carry great weight in the church's decision. The church is sponsoring an open meeting from 7-9 p.m. Jan. 11 at 9601 Cedar Lane in Bethesda.
Fritts said T-Mobile approached the church in March about installing the tower, offering $18,000 in return. Fritts assembled a committee to analyze the options, which he said recommended that the church consider negotiations. Fritts said even if the church decided to move forward, T-Mobile would still have to obtain the proper zoning permits from the county.
"This is just a conversation that we're having, we haven't gotten to the point of deciding," Fritts said. "We are very interested in the neighborhood community; we are not going to do this without first hearing their feelings about it."
Lorna McMahon of Kensington said she signed the petition against the tower because the nearby neighborhood has many families with young children; McMahon has three children under 12.
"This is just such an established family neighborhood, it just doesn't make sense to have electrical things like this in a family neighborhood," McMahon said. "My kids are at the age where they have freedom but they don't necessarily know all the risks."
Sten Odenwald, an astronomer and research professor at Catholic University, is against the tower because he said humans don't yet know all the risks associated with radio waves, either. The World Health Organization has said there are no established adverse health effects from cell phone base towers, but also recommended more research be conducted.
"My concern is mainly the research is inconclusive," said Odenwald, who lives near the church. "Personally I don't think I'd like to take that kind of a risk, and whether there are actually effects or not to me is sort of not the point."
Odenwald echoed Alexander's fear that perception of negative health effects could have a real negative impact on property values.
"Quite frankly I'd rather not have that conversation when I try to sell my house," Odenwald said.
Jason Campbell, a senior development manager for T-Mobile, said the company standards fall below maximum standards set by the Federal Communications Commission for its towers. He said the tower at the church would emit thousands of times less than the FCC standard.
The FCC Web site also states that "...[R]adiofrequency emissions from antennas used for cellular and PCS transmissions result in exposure levels on the ground that are typically thousands of times below safety limits. These safety limits were adopted by the FCC based on the recommendations of expert organizations and endorsed by agencies of the Federal Government responsible for health and safety. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students."
"You would need several thousand T-Mobile facilities on this property alone to even get close to the FCC standard," Campbell said.
Campbell said T-Mobile wants to install the tower to "keep up with the unprecedented demand for wireless services." He said 60 percent of cell phone calls are made from within the home, making residential service essential.
Alexander said the group is "aware that there are cell towers all over, but most of them are not right in the middle of a neighborhood." She said they will continue to seek dialogue with the church and she is optimistic for a good outcome.
"We see the church as our neighbor and we all try to treat our neighbors with respect and care, and I do have faith that they are going to do that in this case," Alexander said.
Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church will host an open meeting on the proposal to erect a T-Mobile cell phone tower on its property from 7-9 p.m. Jan. 11 at 9601 Cedar Lane in Bethesda.