Several Burbank residents met Wednesday to organize a fight against a planned wireless telecommunications facility atop a nearby church. Their battle includes filing three appeals of a decision by the Planning Board allowing the project to move forward.
Board members approved the facility last month, despite the opposition of several residents living near the Little White Church on Avon Street.
The Burbank City Council is scheduled to hear the appeals on May 22.
One of the main issues for residents is that the project will set a precedent.
The T-Mobile project is the first wireless telecommunications facility proposed in a single-family residential area in Burbank since the City Council approved an ordinance in September allowing such a move, as long as the equipment is on a structure, such as a church or school.
The facility's 12 antennas will be placed inside a steeple-like structure on top of the church, while other equipment will be installed on the first floor of the two-story building.
T-Mobile officials have said the equipment is needed to fill a service gap in the area and improve existing service. Other locations were considered, such as a Petco sign to the north, but height issues knocked that option out of the running and the church was the only viable option, T-Mobile officials said.
Lawrence Huber said he doesn't want the facility because it will hinder his ability to rent a house he owns next to the church. Huber, along with his wife, Laurel, filed one of the appeals.
He said he will have to disclose the proximity of the antennas to prospective tenants, making it more difficult to rent the home.
Their daughter, Kathryn Huber-Merlo, currently leases the house and has also filed an appeal.
She said she's concerned about how the facility will affect her young daughter's health. If the facility is installed, she and her family will move, she said, leaving her father with a vacant house.
Huber-Merlo and her husband gave up their cell phones three years ago because of health concerns about radio emissions.
"That was our personal choice," she said.
However, she argued, they had no choice regarding the installation of the cellular equipment.
"You've taken away that choice from me and imposed it on me, and I don't appreciate that," Huber-Merlo said of the commission-level decision.
She acknowledged that she can't use health concerns in her appeal argument because the City Council can't take those issues into consideration. 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
Huber-Merlo said her neighbors are researching other arguments, such as possible noise pollution from two air-conditioning units that are part of the project.
Residents also said they are worried the facility will drive down property values and could harm students at two nearby schools — Bret Harte Elementary and Luther Burbank Middle School.
Burbank Unified Supt. Stan Carrizosa has been contacted by a school parent concerned about the situation, said district spokeswoman Kimberley Clark.
In an email response to the parent, Carrizosa said the school district has no jurisdiction over the placement of the facility at the church because it's not being installed on school property.
He also stressed that school officials are always concerned about the safety of students.
"Having said this, the placement of cell towers near schools is fairly common across the county and state," he said. "The [Federal Communications Commission] and several other agencies and institutions have studied the impact of cell tower frequencies and found them to be safe.
"Additionally, there are reports that demonstrate that districts and neighborhoods where towers have been installed have had no negative impact."
During the next few months, opponents plan to rally around their cause with yard signs, a letter-writing campaign and petition drive, T-shirts and banners.
At the neighborhood meeting, Huber-Merlo had this message for fellow opponents: "We can do this."