Church Respects Neighbors’ Appeal

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By Donna Furey | LB Indy

Neighbors and parishioners who’d been waging a quiet campaign against the placement of a cell phone antenna in the bell tower of the St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church on Temple Terrace won a collective victory last week when AT&T withdrew its application, city officials confirmed.

Tyler Rootlieb, who lives near the church embedded in a residential neighborhood, in December began handing out flyers after church services with the help of 40-year church member Kay Ross, alerting congregants of the plan. “I thought the congregation should know,” he said.

A small notice about the antenna proposal was posted on a seldom-used bulletin board in the entry of the church, “but it was Christmas and everyone was busy,” said Ross, who doubts many noticed it.

A change.org petition as well as a handwritten petition with about 200 signatures collectively was presented in late December to Father Kenneth Schmit, who was handling the antenna placement for the church. The neighbors also paid $600 to file an appeal with the city over the tower application, Rootlieb said, which meant a moratorium on any further action until the appeal was heard, set for Feb. 24.

Father Schmit, who did not return calls seeking comment on the matter, never publicly disclosed the potential rental income the church could generate by leasing space for the cell antenna.

By comparison, AT&T paid the school district $4,082.24 per month for an antenna at Laguna Beach High School, a few blocks from the church, said Dean West, who manages the district’s business affairs. The 25-year contract expired and there was no interest in renewing a new agreement, he said. New larger equipment would have to be installed on the exterior of the Artists’ Theatre and removing the old gear allowed for more prop storage in the theatre basement, he said.

Rootlieb was among the residents who live within 300 feet of the proposed antenna and was notified by mail about AT&T’s application as well as a Planning Commission meeting on the matter in December. He and about 30 neighbors attended the meeting. Some neighbors felt powerless to oppose the proposal because the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits communities from considering health or environmental issues in regulating cell towers.

Regardless, Rootlieb, 41, a 30-year Laguna Beach resident, began his own research. He found studies with what he called “gray area” conclusions about health risks. “The information on the F.C.C. web site is 25 years old,” he said. He also discovered that his neighbors opposed a cell tower in their backyard regardless of the health risks. The potential risk of lower property values, “that got the attention of neighbors,” he said.

A survey by the National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy taken last June corroborates the attitudes of Temple Terrace homeowners. It showed that 94 percent of those who took the survey said the presence of a cell tower would impact their interest in a property and the price they would be willing to pay for it.

On Dec. 27, at a hastily called meeting attended by Rootlieb and about 30 others, Father Schmit gave assurances that the church “wasn’t going to do anything that the neighbors didn’t like. He said he wanted to get more information,” Rootlieb recounted. Afterwards Schmit left town for a two-week trip, leaving some to believe that the cell tower proposal was dead, but others remained wary.

At another meeting of the church’s women’s council in early January, Ross informally discussed the matter with Father Schmit and asked if the antenna plan had been dropped. “I really don’t think he thought it was a big deal,” Ross said. “His previous parish, in Santiago Canyon, had three of them.”

Ross believes Father Schmit, who is new to the parish, didn’t anticipate the importance of cultivating the church’s relationship with its neighbors. Rootlieb agrees.

And the church has since reimbursed the neighbors for the $600 filing fee to appeal the matter, Rootlieb noted.

Director of Community Development Greg Pfost confirmed in a Jan. 20 email that AT&T had withdrawn its application to place an antenna at the church. It is unclear if Father Schmit made an official announcement to church parishioners.

Going forward, Rootlieb says he still wants to meet with the City Council to create a master wireless plan and a better map of where towers are located. He believes Laguna Beach should adopt a cell tower placement ordinance that favors commercial sites over residential ones.

In March of 2012, the Laguna Beach City Council voted to investigate regulating the distance cell towers could be placed from schools, parks and homes.

 

 

 

 

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  1. I am astonished by the absolute idiocy of the neighbors of this chuch. Almost every municipal/comprehensive zoning plan encourages carriers to install their antennas on top of or inside existing structures. In this situation, the antennas would be screened from view and unnoticed by all the neighbors. Its not as if a brand new tower was being constructed. And I bet this Rootlieb would be the first to compain the moment he doesnt get a cell signal inside his house. Oh and as far as his comment about installing this equipment in commercial zone: well do most people live in commercial zones? No they live in residential neighborhoods. So where do you need to install the antennas then fella? Enough said.

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