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04 August 2016

Olympia, Washington: Neighbors Win Fight Over Cell Tower

It can be done!

Neighbors win fight over cell tower at South Sound Church
by Andy Hobbs. ahobbs@theolympian.com, 3 August 2016

Photo:  Lorinda Churches is among neighbors on Bethel Street Northeast who had been fighting the proposed cell phone tower at South Sound Church for nearly two years. In this photo, Churches points to a picture of the initial “balloon test” conducted last summer to show the tower’s proposed height by raising a yellow balloon to 142 feet. This photo also shows her house. Andy Hobbs The Olympian

Residents near South Sound Church were finding it hard to love thy neighbor because of a now-defunct plan to erect a 142-foot cellphone tower disguised as a pine tree.

Neighbors along Bethel Street Northeast just north of Olympia city limits worried that the proposed cell tower with Verizon antennas would hurt their property values and spoil the view from their backyards.

To call more attention to the project, some residents even picketed outside the church during a recent Sunday service at 1416 26th Ave. NE.

However, the application for the cell tower is no longer active, according to Thurston County planner Scott McCormick. He said the project would not have been approved anyway because of public opposition and the proposed tower’s proximity to wetlands.

“I couldn’t see myself recommending approval,” McCormick told The Olympian, adding that Atlas Tower Holdings LLC’s application expired last month. “I have not heard back from them whether they intend on reapplying or not.”

The Olympian has left messages seeking comment from the applicants. Lead pastor Stephen Carpenter said South Sound Church had been going through tough financial times and was looking for extra income when Atlas Tower Holdings made an offer to have the church host the tower.

The deal would have brought in about $1,200 a month, Carpenter said, adding that the church never intended to cause harm to the community. Despite complaints from neighbors, Carpenter said the church had gotten too deep into the tower’s siting process and feared costly financial penalties if it were to back out of the agreement.

“We just felt like we were strapped,” said Carpenter, who learned of the tower application’s expiration when interviewed for this story. “We want this community to know that we’re here to love you and meet your needs.”

Lorinda Churches is among the neighbors who had been fighting the tower since 2014. Last summer, Churches took photos of the initial “balloon test” behind her house that showed the tower’s proposed height by raising a yellow balloon to 142 feet. The tower itself would have been less than 200 feet from the nearest residential lot.

Now that the tower project has apparently stalled, Churches said she is hopeful that neighbors and South Sound Church can make amends.

“If they aren’t going to go through with the tower,” she said of the church, “then yes.”

Shanelle Montano, a mother of two whose home abuts the church parking lot, said the proposed tower had generated concerns about her property value as well as the potential effects on her family’s health.

“We don’t want to risk anything,” she said. “We absolutely do not want to live by it.”

But at least one neighbor saw the proposed cell tower as a bonus.

“I’ll get better cell reception,” said Glen Dake, who has lived on Bethel Street for 30 years. “We don’t get good reception in this area.”

Thurston County real estate broker Tom Schrader said any cell tower, especially one that’s visibly close to homes, would definitely have a negative impact on residential property values.

“I do not think they should be placed in residential areas,” Schrader said of cell towers. “With all real estate, it’s about location, location, location.”

But Steve Garrett of Windermere Real Estate in Olympia said he has not encountered a situation where a cell tower or overhead power lines affected the value of a home. Many buyers don’t mind power lines like the ones that crackle above the Indian Summer Golf and Country Club, he said.

“The cell towers that I’ve seen have done a good job in placement. It’s not right in your face,” Garrett told The Olympian.

As far as health effects, the American Cancer Society reports there is “very little evidence” that living near a cell tower might increase cancer or health problems. Radiofrequency emissions from the towers result in exposure levels that fall below safety limits, according to the FCC, which notes that “there is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students.”


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