Board gives T-Mobile cell tower go-ahead

Little White Chapel in Burbank
Little White Chapel in Burbank will be housing wireless telecommunication antennas in the future. (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff Photographer)

Despite protests from nearby residents, Planning Board members gave the green light this week for a wireless telecommunications facility to be constructed inside a church in a residential area, the first move of its kind under a city ordinance that was passed last September.

The ordinance allows, for the first time, wireless equipment to be placed in single-family residential areas if a conditional-use permit is approved, so long as the equipment is in institutional buildings such as churches or schools.

In a 4-1 vote, the Planning Board granted a permit to T-Mobile to place a telecommunications facility with 12 antennas in the Little White Chapel, located at 1711 N. Avon St., even though several neighbors voiced concerns during the meeting about health issues, noise pollution and the possible negative impact on property values if the cell-tower facility is built inside the two-story church.

The antennas will be placed in a steeple-type structure on top of the church, which some residents complained wouldn’t match with the church’s existing features. Other equipment will be located on the first floor.


Federal law prohibits state and local governments from regulating the placement, construction or modification of wireless facilities on the basis of environmental effects of radio frequency emissions.

“We’re not allowed to look at emissions.... We’re not allowed to look at possible health effects,” said Planning Board member Undine Petrulis before the vote. “Our goal is to make sure this fits into the neighborhood. And it’s all about aesthetics.”

Board member Kimberly Jo explained that a major issue is whether the proposed use is compatible with other uses on the lot, namely a church. Since the cell-tower equipment would not require changing the church to another use — such as a retail store — it is compatible, she said.

However, board member Vahe Hovanessian, who cast the lone dissenting vote, didn’t agree that it was compatible.


Walter Gaworecki, speaking on behalf of T-Mobile, said the company needs to place the tower in the church to fill a service gap in the area and improve existing service.

“You want your cell phone to work in times of emergency, in times of need, or even if you’re just at home and want to call a loved one or if you’re on business,” he said.

He didn’t think property values would go down, he said. In fact, a poor cell signal can be a deterrent for some prospective homebuyers, he added.

T-Mobile looked at other locations, such as a Petco sign to the north, but height issues knocked those sites out of the running and the church was the only viable option, Gaworecki added.

He said the only other alternative would be to build the facility on a public right-of-way, which would put it even closer to private properties.

Residents said they were concerned about the noise from two air-conditioning units that will be installed to keep the equipment cool.

But Gaworecki said the air-conditioning units are the same ones used in houses, not industrial-sized units. He added that if noise becomes a problem, it will be addressed.

There is a 15-day window to appeal the Planning Board’s decision.