Cellphone users demand good cellphone coverage, but no one wants a cellphone tower in their backyard.
On Grand Island, tempers are flaring as Verizon seeks to put its third cell tower somewhere on the northeast part of the island.
“There is no good place to put this tower,” said Mary Cooke, Grand Island town supervisor. “Somebody is going to be mad.”
Wireless access is deemed an essential service by the federal government, so municipalities are forced to accommodate cell towers. And as consumers use smartphones to surf the Web and stream movies, data consumption and cellular demand have increased exponentially.
The only thing municipalities have some control over is how to regulate cell towers and where to put them.
Grand Island has crafted codes that require, for example, several cell companies to share space on a single tower. But, despite there being 10 other cell towers on the island, there is a wide swath on the northern end that has spotty coverage.
As a safety measure, current codes on Grand Island require a buffer zone around a cell tower equaling five times the tower’s height, which is meant to prevent the structure from hitting anything if it falls. But modern engineering methods cause cell towers to collapse within themselves rather than topple to the side, so an area of five times the tower’s height is no longer necessary.
The Grand Island Town Board will vote Monday on a law that would decrease that safety zone to a minimum of one-and-a-half times the tower’s height.
Residents don’t like that idea since it would allow cell towers to be put closer to their homes.
“I don’t want to look at the ugly thing,” said John Cook, who lives on Autumnwood Drive, near one proposed cell tower location at the Island United Presbyterian Church on Huth Road.
Residents in that area have said they paid more for their homes in order to live in an area where their utility lines are buried underground and if a cell tower goes up it, will lower their property values.
Among several other possible sites, town officials are looking into the possibility of locating the tower in Veterans Park, so that residents can at least share in the revenue the tower brings. But citizens don’t like that either, saying the revenue amounts to about 50 cents per person on the island, which isn’t worth ruining the serenity of the park’s setting.
Craig Eddy, whose Island Park Circle property backs up to Veterans Park, has collected more than 600 signatures on a petition against locating the tower there. He pointed to reports that said the Veterans Park location would leave coverage gaps on the northern part of the island that could lead to the need for an additional tower down the road.
“I understand nobody wants this in their backyard and the park happens to be my backyard,” Eddy said. “But if you just look at the propagation maps and the coverage, you’re not solving the issue if you put the tower in the park.”
Placing the tower in the park leads to a host of other issues as well, since the park land would have to be decommissioned to allow the tower, and additional park land would have to be formed elsewhere to offset its loss.