By Kevin Kelley
Instead of asking, “Can you hear me now?” Verizon Wireless is asking, “Can we build a cell tower now?”
The company has said a “dead zone”
in Westlake has led to complaints about cellphone service dating back to 2001. Verizon “
officials said that after years of failed attempts to place its telecommunications equipment on various properties in the city, the company reached an agreement to build a cell tower on the property of Prince of Peace Church, located at 28455 Center Ridge Road.
But nearby residents, fearing the 100-foot monopole tower will adversely affect their property values, are opposing its construction.
In December, the Westlake Planning Commission narrowly gave its approval to erecting the tower on the church property. But City Council, which must also grant its approval in ordinance form, has twice postponed votes on the issue. At council’s Thursday meeting, the issue was sent back to the Planning
Commission because additional information, much of it technical in nature, has been submitted to the city, council President Mike Killeen said.
The city has hired a consulting firm to review the matter.
Besides the effect of a tower on property values, opponents have raised the question of whether the selection of the church site complies with city code.
Westlake code prescribes that telecommunications facilities be placed, if possible, on certain properties over others. A list ranks those categories from one to six:
1. On existing towers
2. On industrial-zoned property
3. On city-owned property
4. On business-zoned property
5. On other publicly owned property
6. On other property
Ward 4 Councilman Michael O’Donnell said he does not think Verizon has sufficiently justified why the tower must go on the church property.
“I think everybody wants a tower,” O’Donnell told West Life. “I think everybody wants this to comply with the code.”
Laurie Frankito, a Stonegate Circle resident who has led opposition to the tower, said constructing a tower on the church’s property will set a precedent that goes against the city’s code.
“It’s not that we don’t want a tower or that (Verizon) doesn’t have a need,” said Frankito, whose house is located just to the southeast of the Prince of Peace property.
Frankito, who has gathered 125 signatures in an online petition at change.org against the Prince of Peace tower, said she is encouraged by council’s postponement of a final vote.
Verizon Wireless officials have said the company pursued numerous “false leads” of property owners willing to host its telecommunications equipment. Such sites included St. John Medical Center, the Westlake Recreation Center, the Westlake branch of the U.S. Postal Service and Westlake Porter Public Library. All property owners either rejected Verizon Wireless or the site was determined to be unsuitable for one reason or another, company officials said.
O’Donnell and Frankito want Verizon to try again at some of those sites to comply with city code.
But Verizon Wireless officials contend that rejection of the Prince of Peace tower site will cause a two- to three-year delay in fixing the service problems.
“The (tower) site identification, negotiation leasing, due diligence and permitting process are lengthy,” wrote David Walker, Verizon’s network real estate manager, in a Jan. 30 letter to City Council members. “Every time we must start over in seeking a new candidate further delays our efforts to close the growing coverage and capacity gaps, which in turn delays the restoration of reliable wireless service to the community.”