Neighbors: Construction is a surprise

The sound of a jack hammer was the first notification that something was happening.

Residents in a tract behind Newland Street and Atlanta Avenue found themselves the unwilling neighbors of a 55-foot T-Mobile cellular tower disguised as a pine tree and are trying to figure out how it happened.

"It was just a real surprise to all of us. Not one person knew about it," said Daniel Michalak, a resident of Mission Lane for more than 15 years.

More than 50 residents near the cell tower on the Landmark Liquor store property at 8491 Atlanta Ave. are wondering how they were overlooked when the tower was being approved and are considering legal action if it can't be resolved.

The tower is disguised as a pine tree with any equipment hidden on the store's roof, but Michalak is concerned how what he calls an eyesore will impact home prices. The neighbors have been working hard to fix up their homes and keep them in good condition, and this is counterproductive, he said.

His main concern, though, is about the unknown health effects of living so close to a cell tower, especially with his four children.

"I kind of feel like it's being around a secondhand smoker," he said.

The tower didn't go to public hearing, like the proposed wireless tower on Heil Avenue that was shot down in March by the City Council. Consequently, the residents weren't notified and didn't have a chance to rally against it.

The Heil tower needed a conditional use permit for exceeding the height restrictions in the area.

The Landmark Liquor tower didn't have to go through the public hearing process because it complied with the city's wireless code and zoning height requirements and was compatible with surrounding landscapes when disguised, said assistant planner Jill Arabe.

The tower only needed a building permit and administrative approval for a wireless permit, which it received Aug. 24.

Atlantic Avenue resident William Lindsey wants to know how the Landmark Liquor tower only needed administrative approval, he wrote in a letter to the City Council dated June 21.

"Given the controversy accompanying cell tower construction, how could the planning department approve any cell tower construction without public notice, or at least notification to the immediate neighbors?" Lindsey asked in the letter.

According to city records, neighbors had 10 days after it was approved to file an appeal with the Planning Commission. At this point, the tower is built and there is nothing the city can do, Arabe said.

Neighbors still want to see if there is a way to have it removed either by appealing to the city, T-Mobile, or if it comes to it, a lawsuit, Michalak said.

"If it can't be approved, then I guess we will have to consider another option," he said.

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