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ZAP rejects cell tower permit due to citizens’ concerns

Thursday, January 8, 2009 by Austin Monitor

After two postponements, the Zoning and Platting Commission heard a request Tuesday night for a new T-Mobile cell tower at a church near William Cannon. The Jubilee Christian Center had worked out an agreement with T-Mobile to allow construction of the tower on its property, but neighbors concerned about the health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields generated by the tower convinced the ZAP to reject the conditional use permit required for the tower.


Although the proposed tower location met FCC regulations and most of the City of Austin zoning requirements, it was less than 200 feet from a vacant piece of property zoned SF-2. That triggered the need for a conditional use permit. While the company had sought alternate locations for a tower to serve the area, agent Vincent Huebinger said, zoning and technical restrictions limited their options. “We need this site. We can’t find any other location in this search ring to work,” he said.


A technical specialist with T-Mobile attempted to reassure neighbors and commissioners that the tower would be safe. The power field generated at ground-level by the tower, said Neil McCullouch, was less 1/1000 of what the FCC had determined to be dangerous. “Imagine 12 light bulbs on a tower that’s 100 feet tall, that’s about the amount of power that we could get out of one of these sites,” he said.


But neighbors were not convinced. “The FCC appointees have virtually no medical or public health expertise. The FCC regulations are based on obsolete and unfounded theories that related to power density hot enough to flash-cook tissues,” said Margaret Weston. “The FCC guidelines are set so high that it’s impossible to fall outside of the guidelines.”


McCullouch disputed that claim, noting that while Weston had submitted information on studies critical of the wireless industry, “the source of some of these studies is not necessarily credible.” One of the articles submitted to the ZAP was from an on-line magazine devoted to the paranormal, with numerous articles on Bigfoot, chupacabras, and UFOs.


While most of the testimony centered on the potential health impacts of the tower, the commission focused on the visual aspects of the project. “One of the issues the church raised in choosing the location that they did…they acknowledged it as an eyesore. As part of this community and a neighbor who actually lives nearby this area, they also contend that it’s an eyesore,” said Commissioner Donna Tiemann. “With so little apparent local control over where these can be located, I’m not inclined to support a variance of the limited control we have at 200 feet. With the postponement from the last meeting, I had also hoped we would have been shown an alternate location.”


The commission voted 5-1-1 on Tiemann’s motion to deny the conditional-use permit. Chair Betty Baker abstained and Commissioner Keith Jackson was opposed.

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