Sunday, November 25, 2012


Though palm trees evoke an idyllic desert oasis, that's hardly the case for frustrated residents of Mesa, Ariz. That's because a "palm tree" set to be planted in the Phoenix suburb isn't what it seems: It's a camouflaged cellular tower. Cell phone tower palm tree Fon Farall | Photodisc | Getty Images Cell Phone tower disguised as a Palm tree to blend in. In late October, the Federal Communications Commission ordered service provider AT&T to construct the now-infamous "cell phone tower palm" on a vacant lot in a residential neighborhood of East Mesa in order to fill gaps in the community's service coverage. To make the tower less obtrusive, AT&T plans to disguise it as a palm tree (like the tower pictured) -- except that, at 70 feet tall and with no actual palms around it, it would be obvious that it's not a real tree. Residents liken the action of disguising the tower to "putting lipstick on a pig." "We live in a residential area of one-story homes, and our nearby commercial area has buildings with a maximum height of 30 feet," David M. Brown, a six-year Mesa resident, told AOL Real Estate. "They say they want to contextualize this palm-tree tower by putting three or four actual palm trees around it. But real palm trees aren't anywhere near 70 feet tall, and [it would] take years before they'd reach that height. It would literally tower above the community." The brouhaha in East Mesa spotlights ongoing battles around the country over the construction of cell phone towers in residential areas. Aside from cell towers being considered "eyesores," some residents and experts argue that they are dangerous. Long-term exposure to radiation from cell towers is suspected by some of causing cancer and other maladies, though the American Cancer Society says that most scientists view that as unlikely. But any possible health risk from the cell tower has further stoked the oppostion from Mesa residents, who said they are outraged because they were given little warning or information before the plan to erect the cell phone tower was finalized. An AT&T spokesperson said, however, that the company strictly followed the City of Mesa's notification requirements. Residents received a letter in the mail from the site acquisition firm, the FM Group, on behalf of AT&T [T 34.36 0.51 (+1.51%) ] on Oct. 29 informing the community that a final decision would be reached by Nov. 13. Due to severe backlash from residents, the vote was delayed indefinitely by the Mesa Board of Adjustment until a community meeting was to be held, currently scheduled for early December. It's a delay that gives residents more time to protest the construction of the tower -- even though many recognize the demand for better service coverage in the area. "I do realize that AT&T needs this cell-phone tower -- we're not against the tower itself. It just doesn't need to be so close to our homes," said East Mesa resident Cory Barham, who lives about 400 yards from the site of the proposed cell tower. "Apart from the tower being so tall, we all feel that property values will go down if they build it so close. Most people I know wouldn't want to buy a house near a cell phone tower." RELATED LINKS Utility Bills: How to Estimate Costs for a New Home Adding Home Insulation to Your Rental Green Real Estate: Homes Made Mostly From Recycled Materials According to Barham and Brown, plummeting real estate values is one of the biggest concerns of East Mesa residents, and local Realtors agree. "I would predict that the real estate market in Mesa would take quite a hit if they were to go ahead and build the tower," said Realtor Carole Wilson, who is based in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and Mesa. "So I absolutely understand the concern." Particularly in a lower-middle-class area like East Mesa, which already has been hit hard by the housing crisis (resale home values in the area have plunged up to 60 percent), throwing an obtrusive and potentially dangerous cell tower into the mix would be like "twisting the knife," residents said. "My feeling is that most of our community is against the building of this cell phone tower," added Barham. "We don't want it anywhere near our homes and our families." According to the project's architect, Michael Fries, three alternative locations for the tower have been examined in the wider Mesa area, but either zoning was not possible in those locations or the owner of the lot declined to negotiate. 'Who Knows What's a Safe Level?' Amid forceful community backlash, AT&T defended itself, saying that it is continually working with the East Mesa community to listen to and allay residents' concerns. AT&T has been especially focused on pacifying widespread concern regarding an alleged link between cell phone towers and diseases such as cancer. The service provider continues to reassure worried residents such as Barham that studies on the topic remain inconclusive and that all necessary health and safety regulations set by the FCC will be strictly adhered to. "AT&T operates its networks in compliance with FCC-required emission standards," AT&T spokesman Dave Cieslak told AOL Real Estate. "And this proposed site will also be operated within FCC standards for health and safety." But these FCC standards, according to Dr. Joel Moscowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, are based upon findings that are both outdated and limited in scope. According to Moscowitz, the health and safety regulations implemented by the FCC are based on research conducted in 1996 and only take into account the thermal effects of "microwave radiation" disseminated by cell transmission towers. They do not take into account non-thermal effects of exposure, Moscowitz said. "Though it's harder to make causal inferences with cell towers [versus cell phone usage], a fair amount of studies show that long-term exposure around cell towers increases the risk of health problems that are largely neurological in nature," said Moscowitz. "For example, ringing of ears, headaches, memory problems, allergy-like symptoms, increased electro-sensitivity and potentially a greater risk of cancer." more @

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