Lawsuit filed over cell tower inside church belfry

A Redlands homeowner, frustrated by a Mesa County planning department that permitted the construction of a Verizon cell tower inside a church belfry next to his property, has filed a lawsuit to stop construction.

A complaint filed in Mesa County District Court this week names Henry Drake and his wife Judith, 488 23 Road, as plaintiffs. Mesa County, the Board of County Commissioners, county Senior Planner Christie Barton, Verizon Wireless and Monument Baptist Church are named as defendants.

In their complaint, the Drakes allege a number of breaches, particularly by the county.

They claim there is “reasonable potential for adverse health effects living so close to a (telecommunications facility),” and that the tower will “not be safe beyond a reasonable doubt.”

They further call the project a “life altering event,” detailing how plans for their son’s family to build a home next to theirs have been scrapped because of perceived potential ill health effects from the tower.

The complaint further contends that the telecommunications facilities — camouflaged as a working bell tower at the church — aren’t allowed under the property’s current zoning. The suit also alleges that the county, Barton’s planning staff and Verizon all failed to properly notify them that the bell tower project was set in motion.

Drake further alleges that the pastor of Monument Baptist Church, Ray Shirley, outright lied to him about the project moving forward.

Mesa County Attorney Lyle Dechant said Wednesday that he had not yet read the Drakes’ lawsuit and therefore could not comment.

But county Planning Division Director Linda Dannenberger previously said that projects like the one planned for Monument Baptist Church are allowed, zoning-wise, based on religious land uses excepted in the code.

“It’s an addition to a church. There’s nothing in our regulations that says you can’t build a belfry,” she said.

Verizon has used the tactic of disguising telecommunications facilities as church belfries in similar projects across the country, according to various news reports.

As for health concerns, Dannenberger said that falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission, which is responsible for providing safety limits from electromagnetic fields.

Regarding notification, the county considers the project a “minor site plan” — which requires no posting or notice to neighbors, based on the county’s land-use code.

Approval of a traditional, freestanding cell tower would require the issuance of a conditional-use permit, a public hearing, full notice to neighbors, an advertisement in the newspaper and posting on the property, according to county code.


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