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Use of Church Steeple for Cell Antennae Questioned

The discussion of proposed cell phone antennas in the Community United Methodist Church steeple/bell tower by Verizon brought about a dozen people out to attend the East Norwich Civic Association meeting on Jan. 27. The civic group holds meetings 10 months a year in the church’s community room. The meeting was well attended in spite of the snow. Almost 20 residents attended.

The Enterprise Pilot was contacted in December on the issue but while following events, the paper has not written about it until the announcement of this public meeting. The newest development is scheduled to take place on Monday, Feb. 1, at 7 p.m., after the newspaper’s deadline; when the church board has invited parents of the Wesley Nursery School children to attend a meeting to hear representatives of Verizon describe the proposal to install six antennas behind the louvers in the steeple.

There has already been a ZBA hearing on Dec. 2 for the antenna installation.  The ZBA has 62 days to respond to the hearing testimony.

Although Verizon contacted residents in a 100 foot radius about the meeting, not all homeowners received the notice – an issue they intend to pursue. ENCA President Matthew Meng said he attended the ZBA meeting but since the residents had not contacted the civic association beforehand, he did not speak. He said at the January meeting that it was disappointing that the church hadn’t reached out to the civic association or the neighbors or the parents of the Wesley Nursery School. He said the civic would have organized a discussion of the issues if they had been contacted beforehand. He said the church has been working on the proposal for three years, “They are desperate for money,” he reported they said.

He gave a rundown of the events. In December Mr. Meng tried to arrange a meeting with Wesley United Methodist Church board chair Kathy Nastri to facilitate a discussion but “She didn’t get back to me,” he said. On Dec. 6, 25 people attended a meeting at IHOP and spoke about the issues, which he attended. They decided to again reach out to Ms. Nastri, and set a date for Dec. 9, but, “She cancelled giving the holidays as an excuse, and saying that the church was not ready to meet with us,” explained Mr. Meng. A Dec. 16 meeting didn’t come to fruition and on Dec. 22 the people opposed to the installation met again. On Jan. 4, 25 people, including some ENCA board members attended a meeting with the TOB Commissioner of Planning and Development, Fred Ippolitto to answer the concerns of the residents.


Community Comments

The Wesley Nursery School is located in the education building on the church property. It was originally a free standing brick building. When the church was recently renovated the two buildings, the historic wooden church and the brick building were joined by an attractive foyer, in an L shape. The cornerstone of the original church was laid by Mason Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.

Chiropractor Scott Cavagnuolo of the All Natural Healing Center in East Norwich, whose two daughters attend the nursery school said, “It is not a done deal yet.” The residents are pursuing two avenues of discussion: to see if the building is historically significant and would therefore not be suitable for the installation; and the issue of some people not being notified as required by law.

FYI: The Federal Communication Commission does not allow municipalities to deny a cell phone utility on concerns about health issues, something the parents are concerned about. Mr. Cavagnuolo said, “Look at lead paint (which was considered safe for use for many years). The EPA told the first responders that it was safe, when they worked on the 9/11 site. Ten years later that is not the case.”

The parents said that Verizon contacted Rothmann’s and the East Norwich Fire Department for use as the antenna site, but they both turned them down.

It appears that Verizon says it needs to provide better coverage of the area, but people at the Jan. 27 meeting all said they have great coverage now.

One of the men asked, “Why was it so covert? Why not reach out to residents? It’s a community church? So something is wrong.”

ENCA Vice President Sean Rainey commented that the studies have not been done long enough to satisfy people. Twenty years would be a better timeline, he said.

The ENCA board nominated Mr. Meng to be the point man in relation to the cell tower case. The residents said he has already been a great help to them.

In general, cell installations are being put on government sites which allows all the residents to share in the use of the revenue generated. Oyster Bay has cell antennas on their water towers, said a resident. Everyone shares the revenue and they are placed in locations not likely to be populated/used by residents.

Mr. Rainey said in his job he had helped solve a case in which a Wantagh Synagogue wanted to have a cell installation but he brokered a deal for it to be located at the Cedar Creek Waste Disposal plant and so the government gets that revenue. [Offering a better/alternate location for a cell is an allowed strategy in disputed cases.]

Mr. Rainey suggested that the Littaurer Estate which the town owns and is known as The Farm at Oyster Bay might be a good site for Verizon’s use.

“The 16 acres of the Christie property might be a good alternate site too,” he said.

“That has to be saved for the Oyster Bay-East Norwich school district’s use,” said Ms. Colvin. [Although the empty property, if used for a cell antennae location, would give the school district needed revenue.]

As the Jan. 27 meeting ended there was some discussion on whether anyone but the Wesley Nursery School parents could attend the Verizon meeting on Monday night.