Cell phone antennas being placed next to homes
Feb 04, 2013 (Sun Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Cell phone towers for years have generated concerns from neighbors, but now a new batch of antennas could pop up with little or no warning on utility poles, right next to homes.
They've already been erected in 10 Broward County cities, including neighborhoods in Lauderhill and Lauderdale Lakes, and there are plans to install similar structures in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
Some surprised residents fear emissions from the antennas could threaten their health -- and they see the structures as eyesores that will detract from property values.
"How can they say there is no radiation coming from the antenna up there How can they " asked Lauderhill resident Sylvia Lightner, who had no inkling of what was happening when crews installed an antenna and pole across from her house recently. "I'd rather it not be right here, period."
Officials with Crown Castle, the company placing the antennas, said the micro-cell structures -- known as a Distributed Antenna System -- are designed to fill in dead zones. The company, which describes itself as an industry leader in communications infrastructure, has more than 10,000 such antennas nationwide, said Melissa Anderson, government relations counsel for its southeastern region.
"Crown Castle is deploying a neutral host system, a type of small cell solution, to facilitate broadband wireless communications services to several communities in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties," Anderson wrote in response to questions about the company's South Florida plans.
Anderson told Lauderhill commissioners last week that the antennas are designed to fill in the gaps in the cellular network, and that each antenna has about a quarter-mile service radius. The radio wave emissions fall well within Federal Communication Commission-mandated standards, she said.
The company has installed a dozen of the antennas in Lauderhill, including one next to Castle Hill Elementary School. The systems typically include a utility pole with an antenna on top and a 5-by-2-foot box with a microcell or radio unit in it. Fiber optics connect it to a central hub.
Crews are supposed to place doorhangers on surrounding homes alerting residents to the work, Anderson said, but residents in several communities said that didn't happen.
The company has "over 120 installations in progress or in the planning stages across Broward County," according to a memo prepared by Coral Springs public works director Richard Michaud last week. Those installations cover 15 cities, including seven proposed in Coral Springs.
"As a telecommunications provider, Section 253 of the Communications Act prohibits local authorities from regulating the provision of telecommunication services," Michaud wrote in his memo to City Manager Erdal Donmez.
That didn't stop Tamarac officials from rejecting an antenna requested in their city. Tamarac has also imposed a 90-day moratorium on the approval of any new antenna structures to give city staff a chance to analyze the situation.
"One of the issues with the antenna that was submitted, was that it was right in front of a single-family home," said Jennifer Bramley, Tamarac's director of community development. "That was a concern, especially if there are more to come."
Bramley said the city's code deals with traditional cell towers, not the smaller systems Crown Castle is proposing.
And while the system is "less intrusive" than a traditional tower, its use "would nevertheless change the aesthetic character of residential areas and give rise to other potential safety and health concerns," the Tamarac moratorium order said.
While the outdoor systems are new to South Florida, they have been installed elsewhere across the country.
Portland, Ore., requires applicants to hold neighborhood meetings about their plans and to notify people within 400 feet of a proposed antenna. It also set up a hierarchy for placement on streets, so that putting one on a small neighborhood street would come as a last resort, according to the city's website.
Lauderdale Lakes public works director Dan Holmes said he plans to meet with the city attorney and city manager to see if a moratorium should be considered. He said at least a half-dozen new antennas have already been installed, and more are planned for this year.
"We've had some residents in the East Gate community come in. They were very upset about the poles and the location in the community," Holmes said. "They thought they were an eyesore."
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