Sometimes the big guy wins.
The Maspeth community found that out on Dec. 16, when a city board approved the request of a cell phone company to construct a cell tower on the roof of a two-story home on 72nd Place.
The street is made up almost solely of one-and two-family residences. The only businesses are a funeral home, which faces Grand Avenue, and Frank’s Deli, on the corner of 53rd Road. The house at the center of the dispute is connected to the deli.
The community has been fighting the proposal since it was made public over a year ago, arguing that a residential neighborhood is no place for such a structure.
Omnipoint, a subsidiary of T-Mobil, wants the tower to enhance cell phone reception in the area.
The company needed a special permit from the city Board of Standards and Appeals to move forward with the plan. That board grants variances from the zoning code to avoid unduly restricting private property rights, according to its website.
Last week, the board voted unanimously 4-0 to approve the special permit, despite being opposed by officials at nearly every governmental level. Community Board 5, which includes Maspeth, recommended disapproving the project. U.S. Congressman Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), former councilman Dennis Gallagher, state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale), Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall all provided testimony opposing the tower.
Residents also gave the board results of a “call test,” which concluded that cell phone calls in the area are not being dropped, and therefore the tower is unnecessary.
None of it worked. The BSA found that “the proposed pole and related equipment will be located, designed, and operated so that there will be no detrimental effect on the privacy, quiet, light and air of the neighborhood,” according to the resolution approving the project.
If there’s anything for local residents to be happy with, it’s that the tower could have been bigger. Omnipoint wanted to construct a 25-foot tower with a 36-inch diameter. The pole was to be topped by an American flag and illuminated at night.
The approved design will feature a 13-foot tower with a 32-inch diameter.
Response to the BSA’s decision was one of outrage. “I am angry that the commission voted to approve this installation,” said Markey in an email. “It is an inappropriate intrusion on a peaceful residential block and it should not have been permitted.”
Others didn’t think Markey and fellow elected officials did enough. Tony Nunziato, a Republican who failed in his bid to take the assembly seat in November, called officials’ efforts opposing the project weak. “It just proves that … the elected officials are not working in our favor,” he said. “They should have fought this all the way.”
Nunziato, who owns a flower shop in Maspeth, said the BSA members would never consider approving the project where they live and are taking advantage of middle-class New Yorkers.
“They would never allow that to happen in their neighborhood or their back yard,” he said. “To have homes intruded with cell towers is a disgrace.”
Manny Caruana, a member of C.B. 5 and a Maspeth resident, agreed elected officials should have worked harder to prevent the account. “They should have been down there sitting on the mayor’s desk,” Caruana said.
He said he believes the board ignored the voices of the homeowners to side with big business. “I don’t know what the next step is with this, but shame on the people that allowed this to happen, because this is going to come back to bite them,” he said. “It is a miscarriage of justice what they did to us.”
Joseph Wroblewski, the owner of the property, works at Frank’s Deli but lives on Long Island. Wroblewski is a loquacious man but no longer talks about this project to the media. He has expressed regret for signing the contract in previous interviews, though he has said any attempt to pull out now would result in a lawsuit against him.
Now those in the area are hoping the BSA’s decision does not set a precedent, paving the way for more towers in residential neighborhoods.
“Get ready for a fight!” Markey said in way of a warning to T-Mobil or any other cellular company. “We will continue to strongly oppose any other plan that seeks to place a cell tower on any residential block in my district.”