Proposed Cell Tower Gets Bad Reception in Neponsit

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What’s the topic of conversation in Neponsit? Something to help make conversations easier—a cell phone tower. But at a recent Neponsit Property Owners Association meeting, the tower got bad reception from neighbors.

Residents of Neponsit were on alert this week when they noticed construction crews staging an area at the old Neponsit Health Care Center on Beach 149th Street, in preparation of installing a cellphone tower, which parts of were left on a flatbed trailer. This became the top topic of discussion at Tuesday’s meeting held at West End Temple.

Not too much has taken place at the old Neponsit Home since it was evacuated and shut down in 1998. The property is currently maintained by NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation, which according to a report from 2015, pays about $266,000 annually just on security and basic repairs for the decaying building. However, something may be happening that could potentially help HHC recoup some of those costs.

According to HHC, a cell phone tower is coming to the property as part of a three-month pilot program. The tower belongs to telephone provider T-Mobile and is being erected in response to complaints about poor coverage in Riis Park and Fort Tilden. The tower is expected to bring improved service for T-Mobile customers in the area. As it is a pilot, the company says it will take public opinion into consideration to determine if the tower will stay beyond three months.

However, early opinions show that some neighbors are not very receptive to the idea, nor have they been in Neponsit for several years when it comes to the subject of cell towers. Cell phone towers are not absent in Rockaway, with towers that operate at Beach 108th Street, Beach 116th Street, Beach 121st Street, and Beach 135th Street among others. However, in Neponsit, the backlash has been consistent. In 2008 there were plans to put a cell tower on top of West End Temple, where Tuesday’s meeting was held, but this plan was eventually halted due to the community's concerns about health issues, especially because West End Temple houses a religious school, day camps, and nursery school.

Those same health concerns and others were repeated this week with the new tower. At a sparsely attended meeting, which was competing with an important community board meeting and the District Attorney election, the Neponsit property owners discussed the tower and posed questions to Councilman Eric Ulrich representative Robby Schwach. The majority of the attendees were opposed to the tower, citing either possible health concerns, or the unsightliness of the tower itself.

A lot of the concern came from Neponsit Property Owners Association member Mark Anaya, who personally called Ulrich’s office and others upon seeing the tower’s construction himself. “The look, health risk, and that it might open the door for other stuff—we don’t want it up here,” Anya said. “I think this is something to fight for.”

He was joined by association President Amanda Agoglia, who also opposed the tower’s construction. “I think we have enough cell towers in the area,” she said, also mentioning the health concerns and aesthetic issue.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), “there is very little evidence to support” that cell towers have any link to cancer. According to their website, cell towers’ radio waves do not give off enough radiation to actually harm DNA cells and cause cancer. Of the studies that have been done, none find a plausible link between cell towers and cancer. Also, the ACS says that although there is no factual link between cell phones and tumours, “The amount of exposure from living near a cell phone tower is typically many times lower than the exposure from using a cell phone.”

As for it being an eyesore, it is currently unknown where the tower will be placed on the property, or if it will be small and barely noticeable, or large such as the tower currently on Beach 108th Street.

It is currently unknown whether or not the decision will be permanent, or if an alternative location suggested by the community could also be an option. 

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