Community members challenged Omnipoint Communications’ plan to build an 82 foot tall wireless communication tower in Ozone Park’s Bayside Cemetery last week, calling for the company to make it half the size.
Set 20 feet from the cemetery’s south border and roughly 70 feet from Pitkin Avenue homes, the damage that the falling pole could potentially cause was the principal concern that drove Community Board 10’s Thursday recommendation.
“It’s too big. It’s just too big for a residential area,” said Ozone Park resident and community board member Anthony Cosentino. He added that the tapered pole will be weaker as it rises above wind shielding trees.
After Omnipoint representative Robert Gaudioso said that the tower will be disguised as a flagpole and its flag could be as large as 12 feet, the board’s Land Use Committee Chairman John Marus likened it to a sail driven mast.
According to Innovative Engineering, the company that drafted specifications for the pole and the three refrigerator sized equipment cabinets to be set at its base, the structure will be able to withstand 85 mph winds. Gaudioso said at the public hearing that the tower is engineered to double over when placed under too much stress, as opposed to snapping at the base, as many meeting attendees envisioned.
Omnipoint needs a special City Planning permit to erect the pole in the cemetery’s Mokom Sholom section, situated in a residential community. The group was directed to Community Board 10 after petitioning the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals in October.
The wireless service provider’s intention to raze a small, abandoned office on Pitkin Avenue near 80th Street and to set the pole in its place is outlined in the plan issued to the Land Use Committee a month ago. The disguised tower and its equipment cabinets will be surrounded by a 6 foot fence and will be subject to monthly inspections.
The pole will house cables running to four antennae set high above ground. While Gaudioso and Marus disagreed about whether one or two antennae were going to be used by Omnipoint, many at the meeting felt that there was no need to lengthen the pole for unused antennae, which Omnipoint would then be able to lease to other service providers.
Gaudioso countered that the pole would be in keeping with the community’s scale, an argument many quickly dismissed by pointing out that nearby light posts stretch no higher than 30 feet.
Though moving the tower further into the cemetery would distance it from homes and prevent it from becoming a vandalism magnet, the Mokom Sholom site is one of few on the grounds that can be developed without disturbing the cemetery’s interments.
The cemetery was chosen by Omnipoint because the area is a service dead zone, despite the proliferation of wireless communication towers in the neighborhood. But many in the neighborhood, including David Quintana, would prefer to see towers set atop buildings in commercial centers, like the 93rd Street zone where antennae were just fixed to Comp Plus’ roof.
Quintana, who lives 10 blocks from the cemetery, is concerned about his health and that of his 14 year old daughter. He thought it was incumbent on Omnipoint to at least host a town hall style meeting at which officials would field questions from community members about potential health risks.
“It’s unproven what this will do over time,” he said.
After a radio frequency emissions report was conducted as part of an Environmental Impact Assessment of the project, it was determined that there were no pressing public health concerns associated with the project. Omnipoint did not return calls seeking comment on whether they had conducted any independent research into potential health threats created by the tower.
Although the issue of public health concerns was approached at the public hearing, it was not pursued because committee members were not permitted to vote against the proposal on the grounds that the utility created a threat to public health.
In addition to calling for the tower to be as small as possible with as few antennae as possible, the board stipulated that it be covered with paint that would allow graffiti to be easily washed off.