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P-L board rejects Verizon tower proposal

PINETOP-LAKESIDE — The Pinetop-Lakeside Board of Adjustment rejected an application Nov. 2 for a variance request by Verizon Wireless to build 94-foot tower on the corner of Woodland Lake Road and Julia Lane.

The site is located on the former Pico’s Nursery property, which is now operated as an wedding and event center.

Town Community Development Director Cody Blake offered introductory comments and said that Verizon’s interest in building a new tower was a “complaint-driven” response from local residents requests. The Board of Adjustment, at their Oct. 19, meeting also requested that the town assess the possibility of co-locating on a tower owned by White Mountain Communications. Verizon said the existing tower would not satisfy their needs, Blake said.

Fifteen residents lined up following Blake’s introductory comments to speak on the issue themselves. An overwhelming theme of most who testified Nov. 2 said they were mostly concerned with possible negative health effects, and property values dropping should the tower become a reality. Most said they didn’t want the tower in their residential neighborhood.

Although most everyone agreed that the wireless service is poor in the area, most said they didn’t want better service if it meant a potential risk to their health or a drop they would see in property values.

The first four speakers mentioned their health concerns for two autistic children who live within about 100 feet of the proposed location.

Don McMasters, who also lives near the proposed tower site, introduced himself as the president of the White Mountains Autism Foundation and said that living near a cell tower is extremely damaging to an autistic person. he also spoke to the general feeling against having the tower in a residential area.

“Everyone who would like to live within 400 feet of a cell tower, raise your hands,” he said. Very few hands went up.

“We have a son with autism who is 29 and we’ve been told not to live anywhere near high EMF (Electromagnetic fields).” Barb McMasters, Bob’s wife said.

McMasters gave members of the board an 18-page packet of materials about the health risks involving cell towers.

“Some say it’s a theory. Let me tell you, it’s not a theory, it’s real. Please dig into it. And by the way, there are six — and not two — individuals with autism living in this community,” he added

Chris Paxman, the father of two autistic children who lives across the street from the proposed tower site gave the most emotional presentation of the night.

Paxman is a photographer, came to the lectern fighting back tears. He said his children were the two that everyone was talking about and that he would have a view of the new tower from his front window. Paxman produced photographs of his view of the Pico Greenhouse property with a rainbow, a photo of one son and an aerial view he took with a drone to show the board and the crowd what he was faced with.

“Let’s make this more realistic,” Paxman said as he took out a dark felt pen and drew the tower onto his photograph. “Oh, and let’s put those realistic branches they propose on it, too,” he said, referring to plans to make the tower look like an tree.

As he drew a rough-looking tower sketch on his photo, the impact of Paxman’s emotions seemed to grip the audience. He then produced a photo of one of his son said, “He can’t go anywhere, but he has the time of his life in the backyard. I am not really willing to risk myself or my kids for this.”

Merry Lee Cox, who lives nearby, has been a vocal opponent of the tower. She said it was a lack of communication about the tower that brought her to the meeting Oct. 19. She spoke of a possible 5 -20 percent drop in nearby property values as a result of the tower.

“We’re middle-class people and our homes are our equity,” she said, adding that tower fires can occur, causing catastrophic failure and referencing YouTube videos to confirm such incidents.

The property owners, Alison Stewart and John Samora, were the only ones to speak in favor of the tower. They said they couldn’t testify to the health concerns, but said it is a commercial property and they were going to try to make it blend in. They said they planned to make the facility as aesthetically pleasing to the neighborhood as possible by planting trees and shrubs to blend it into the trees. Stewart and Samora own the Greenhouse on Woodland, a wedding and event center located at the former Pico’s Nursery location.

In written comments the offered after the meeting, Samora said that he found some of the passionate comments made by people at the meeting “hypocritical.”

“I am willing to bet that most if not all of those speakers at the (town) council meeting…had cell phones in their pockets, which also emit waves. Further, there was a lot of talk about protecting our children from these waves, and yet, many of these same people send their children to the Blue Ridge School district where there are not one, but two cell towers on their campuses,” he wrote.

“You know EM radiation is everywhere. I mean, it’s just floating all around us these days,” Councilman James Snitzer said. “We used to be told that watching TV would give us radiation, then it was microwave ovens and now it’s cell phones and they’re everywhere, so they wouldn’t be around in my opinion, if that was true. I just don’t believe there’s a significant risk from cell phones.”{/div}

Councilor Kathy Dahnk said she would like to see Verizon research an area outside of a residential area. Others wondered why a Verizon representative was not there to answer questions.

Councilor Carla Bowen said she just didn’t think it was the right place. Then Dahnk made a motion to deny the variance, which was seconded by Bowen. The vote passed 6-1 to deny Verizon’s variance request, with Snitzer against the denial and Councilor Norris Dodd attending via teleconference.

Samora and Stewart spoke greeted many in the crowd following the meeting, and hugged Chris Paxman. Samora said he hoped the tower issue would not affect his relationships with all of his neighbors.

”With a few, certainly. But not, I hope, with most…we were looking at this as partially a public safety issue and an infrastructure issue as proposed,” he wrote.

Posted in Advocacy, Cell Towers, EMF-home-inspectionTagged ,