The West Hollywood Planning Commission tonight denied a Verizon Wireless application to install cellular antennas in the tower of St. Ambrose Church.
The denial came after more than an hour of comments from parents of children at Larchmont Charter School, which is adjacent to and whose building is owned by St. Ambrose, and from nearby residents. St. Ambrose is at 1271 N. Fairfax Ave. near Fountain. More than 700 people have signed an online petition against the antenna installation and many submitted letters or email messages expressing their opposition to city staff members and commission members.
In essence, Planning Commission members said they didn’t believe Verizon made a good case for the need for the cell tower, although Verizon representatives displayed a map showing that cell phone reception in the area around the intersection of Fairfax and Fountain avenues was weak. A city staff report said that ” Verizon Wireless radio frequency (RF) engineers determined that the absence of a wireless facility in this vicinity results in a coverage deficiency with unreliable access to wireless services for emergency (911 ), personal, and business use in the area surrounding the intersection of Fountain Avenue and Fairfax Avenue. Maps have been provided by the RF engineers showing the current coverage situation as well as the future coverage with the proposed antennas in place … The maps show that there are peak hour coverage gaps through the central parts of West Hollywood at this time.”
Several commissioners also questioned whether Verizon had adequately explored other locations. The Verizon representatives named several other possible sites which had been explored but weren’t consider appropriate because their location meant signals would interfere with those from other Verizon towers.
Residents and parents who opposed the antenna installation cited a variety of reasons. Some argued that putting the antennas inside the St. Ambrose tower would harm the appearance of the church, although the Verizon representatives noted that the antennas would be inside the tower. Another objection was that the antennas might collapse and cause damage to nearby property. City staffers said the antenna installation would have to meet city requirements. Some also objected that installing the antennas would alter the historic nature of the church, which was built in the 1950s and has no historic designation.
But the core objection, which was noted in the online petition and many of the letters and email messages objecting to the installation, was fear that radio transmissions from the tower could damage the health of students at Larchmont and nearby residents. However numerous studies by groups such as the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society have found there is no evidence that radio transmission from cell towers can damage one’s health.
Commission Chairman John Altschul challenged Verizon, noting that its proposal was hurting its reputation with local customers. Altschul also challenged St. Ambrose, which would have received a rent payment of roughly $25,000 a year from Verizon Wirelss. Altschul told David Sutton, a St. Ambrose representative, that the church should consider dropping its support for the tower because it might lose the Larchmont school as a tenant. Sutton responded by saying that the opponents to the antenna installation were expressing fear and anger. He said the church, whose pastor sleeps below the tower where the antennas would be installed, had carefully investigated the possibility of health risks and had found none.
Verizon had to seek the Planning Commission’s approval for the installation because current city law requires that such towers be installed on rooftops and not in towers and that they be at least 80 feet above ground. The Verizon antennas would have been 62.5 feet above ground.
The Federal Telecommunications Act strictly limits the ability of cities to restrict installation of cell phone towers and antennas. “Based on the information provided by the applicant, this is a situation where the carrier cannot locate anywhere else to fill the service gap in its target area and if the City denies the carrier the ability to construct the facility on this site, the applicant can argue that the denial prohibits it from providing wireless service in contravention of federal law,” said a report from the city’s Department of Community Development. “Under these circumstances, federal law would preempt the City from applying the eighty-foot requirement and the City must allow the applicant to erect the facility at the subject location…”
It is unclear whether Verizon Wireless will appeal the Planning Commission’s decision.