Church won't put tower on property St. Pius bows to critics of antenna, relinquishes $90,000 in rental fees

October 21, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Facing opposition from many neighbors and church members, St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church near Towson has decided against locating a cellular phone tower on its property -- forgoing thousands of dollars in rental fees.

"We said from the beginning we would listen to the community and parishioners," said the Rev. Thomas J. Golueke, pastor of the church. "Enough people were against it."

The outcry against the tower reflects the growing number of battles in Baltimore County and around the nation, as more sites are needed for cellular phone antennas. As consumer demand increases, the number of communications companies is expanding, and technological changes are requiring companies to build antennas closer together.

Some companies are disguising towers as evergreens, palm trees or flagpoles to make them more acceptable to communities. St. Pius, in the 6400 block of York Road, had considered camouflaging its 100-foot communications pole as a bell tower.

But many in the community voiced concerns about the impact on property values. They also were concerned about health issues, such as the effects of electromagnetic radiation emissions from the antennas, though industry studies have found no harmful impact.

In recent weeks, the Rodgers Forge Community Association board of directors voted to oppose the tower. And the board of the St. Pius X Home and School Association wrote to Golueke expressing concerns.

St. Pius X School is on the church property.

"It was a real tough decision [Golueke] had to make," said Ward Smith, president of the school association's board of directors. "There was a lot of benefit lost."

The 40-year-old church would have received about $90,000 over a five-year period for leasing land to AT&T Wireless Services Inc. for the tower.

"I share a sense of loss, emotionally, for the church," said Rich DeNardi, a neighbor and parishioner. "But in terms of what the community wanted, I thank Father Tom for listening and making good on his promise."

Placing communications towers on church properties has become a cottage industry, said Chris Doherty, director of public affairs for AT&T Wireless. He noted that his company's 320 radio links in the Baltimore-Washington area include about 10 church sites.

Among them are St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Annapolis and the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on North Charles Street in Baltimore, where antennas are hidden in steeples.

"Eighty-five percent of our links are on existing structures," Doherty added.

But AT&T still needs a tower near St. Pius.

"We're definitely looking at the commercial areas, the shopping centers, around the York Road corridor," Doherty said.

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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