Church project riles neighbors
There’s more than bells planned for the belfry being constructed at Monument Baptist Church on the Redlands.
When completed, the 55-foot steeple that is envisioned, and just now being erected, will include wireless communications technology that Verizon Wireless will use to increase cellular coverage in the Grand Valley.
“This is going to bring better technology to our valley. We’ve got slow 3G networks, and we should have faster technology,” said Pastor Ray Shirley, who has led the congregation at Monument Baptist, 486 23 Road, for more than 13 years.
For property owners immediately adjacent to the church, whose view corridors are set to include a new tall church tower, better cell coverage is little consolation.
Hank Drake’s property line is less than 75 feet from the new structure, and he has major issues with how the process unfolded, as well as potential health effects that he believes his family will be subjected to after the belfry-antenna combination goes up for good.
“The first reaction that most of us had is the visual, a 55-foot tower. Even though it’s as well designed as something like this could be, it’s still a 55-foot monolith very, very close to me,” Drake said.
“But then we began to research online the real or potential impacts of being close to one of these things,” he said. “We don’t want our grandkids exposed to this.”
Whether there are health hazards to living in close proximity to EMF — or an electromagnetic field — is far from settled science. In fact, Shirley cites research from the Centers for Disease Control, the American Cancer Society and the Federal Communications Commission, all of whom consider cellular facilities safe.
Mesa County, in fact, defers to the FCC in terms of determining safety in living near communications facilities like the stealth antenna planned at Monument Baptist.
While neighbors like Drake are pinning much of their discontent on perceived health hazards, Shirley thinks the issue is bigger than the belfry project.
“Whatever we do here, our neighbors don’t like,” he said, recalling an irrigation pond the church built that brought threat of a lawsuit and neighbor complaints over security lights the church installed. He also said a previous plan to build a steeple — without cell facilities — was met with resistance.
“We feel like we have been very good neighbors,” Shirley said.
Drake has gone so far as to put up a sign on his property, “shaming” the church for selling out to Verizon. In other cases, Drake said, telecommunications carriers have paid for the tower construction, and also paid rent to the church, anywhere from $800 to $1,000 a month.
Shirley declined to discuss his church’s specific financial agreement with Verizon.
Co-locating telecom equipment stealthily in church towers is nothing new, according to an attorney with experience in similar projects, who spoke on the condition she not be identified.
“It’s a nice partnership really, because it’s a revenue source for the private landlord. It’s just a mutually beneficial thing, and they are typically located in areas where wireless companies need coverage,” the attorney said.
That mutual benefit doesn’t necessarily extend to the church’s neighbors however, and Drake is pressing county planners as well as county commissioners to intervene.
He questioned why no one was notified publicly of the project. Planning officials said since the project is considered a “minor site plan,” no posting or notifications are required.
“If a use is allowed by the zoning district, then why do people need to be notified of it going in?” county planner Linda Dannenberger asked rhetorically.
Shirley seemed a bit nonplussed about the negative feedback and widespread publicity about the project.
“Everybody is saying, ‘Why would you do that?’ Our question is, ‘Why wouldn’t we do it?’ ” he said.