Churchgoers balk at proposed tower

October 07, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Members of an Ellicott City church, fearing that a proposed cellular phone tower would harm area children, are urging their leaders to rescind a lease allowing the tower to be built on church grounds.

"I am my brother's keeper, and I have to care about what is going on in their neighborhood," said Wanda Miller, a church member from Catonsville.

About 40 members of the First Church of the Nazarene on Rogers Avenue want the Protestant church to withdraw a 20-year, $1,000-a-month lease it signed in the spring with Cellular One, a subsidiary of Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems Inc.

Under the agreement, Cellular One would lease a portion of the church property to build a 125-foot steel communications tower. The church is sticking by the contract.

Residents in nearby Wilton Acres say the tower, which would be about 450 feet from Patapsco Middle School, will emit electromagnetic radiation. They say the radiation could harm the middle school's students as well as the children who will attend an elementary school scheduled to open nearby in August 1997.

Though scientific studies about health risks associated with electromagnetic radiation have been inconclusive, some church members agree with residents.

"I believe their fear is real," said Ms. Miller.

Damon Gerber, a church member from Mount Airy, also wants to proceed cautiously.

"Let's come down on the side of safety," Mr. Gerber said. "These children must have their health and safety first and foremost."

Neighbors fighting the tower said they are thrilled that some church members have joined their ranks.

"They're very upset that the community is so upset," said Anna Lukiewski, a Wilton Acres resident who is helping circulate a petition to ban the proposed tower. "They didn't realize the repercussions."

The church board signed the lease with Cellular One in April, said Anita Henck, the group's secretary. The 400-member congregation did not vote on the matter.

"The church agreed to allow Cellular One to pursue zoning approval to erect the tower," Ms. Henck said. "If the hearing is not successful, we have no contract with Cellular One."

The Board of Appeals will hold a public hearing on the matter Oct. 18. The county Planning Board has approved the tower.

Church leaders said they thoroughly investigated the potential health risks of electromagnetic radiation before signing the lease.

"There was discussion on that, and there was nothing conclusive," said Kenneth Lundgren, a church board member. "We definitely considered the pros and cons."

Cellular One chose the church site because it is in a wooded area away from homes. The company said it had considered existing structures in the area, such as water tanks and office buildings, but could not find a location far from homes.

Cellular One officials said they are not worried about the lease and are trying to allay the concerns of church members.

"We're open to any questions they might have," said Jeff Owens, senior real estate manager for Cellular One. "We like to hold good relations with our landlord."

Mr. Lundgren said the matter is "just a difference of opinion, like with anything. People see it from different vantage points."

Ms. Miller said the church may never be the same again.

"There will be some bad feeling if there's no reconciliation" among church members, she said. "We need to reconcile the differences."

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