ROSELAND — Residents are desperately trying to persuade their alderman to put a park with a community garden in an empty lot instead of placing a cellphone tower there.
A North Carolina-based company filed an application in March with the city's Zoning Board of Appeals to put a cellphone tower on the lot. Deputy Commissioner Peter Strazzabosco, with the city’s Planning and Development Department, said NBT Partners was the only one to submit a bid for the property for $12,500.
“The sale of the 9,385-square-foot site could be introduced to City Council in June,” Strazzabosco said. “Two simultaneous applications by NBT Partners to the Zoning Board of Appeals are required to be approved for the project to move forward.”
Members of the 9th Ward Greater Roseland Community Coalition said they fear the potential environmental and health threats the cell tower could bring to the empty lot at 107th Street between Vernon and Eberhart avenues.
A study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives concluded that, “Although there remains some uncertainty, the trend in the accumulating evidence is increasingly against the hypothesis that mobile phone use can cause brain tumors in adults.”
Other researchers acknowledge that not enough evidence is out there yet. According to Cancer.org "Some people have expressed concern that living, working, or going to school near a cellphone tower might increase the risk of cancer or other health problems, [but] at this time, there is very little evidence to support this idea."
The city-owned lot has been neglected for years, residents said, even though it’s also along a Safe Passage route, half a block from an elementary school. The land itself has high potential of already being contaminated, according to the Department of Fleet and Facility Management and 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale’s office.
The city did an environmental screen of the site in 2014 to identify any potential environmental concerns and said the site’s history of pollution doesn’t make it the best location for a garden.
"The site is listed as an abandoned service station, and available records identified several underground storage tank (UST) installations and removals dating back to 1953," a letter from Fleet Management to Beale reads. "In addition, at least three USTs were abandoned in place in 1984, and a demolition notice was issued in 1996. Although no releases have been reported for the Site, the majority of the USTs were removed or abandoned in the 1970s and early 1980s, prior to requirements to have spill protection, conduct confirmation sampling, or report releases."
The letter says that since there is no data available to confirm a release hasn't taken place, the tanks "present an environmental concern to the Site."
It was recommended that the site not be used as a community garden because there is “high potential for both current and historic USTs at the site.”
Bryant Payne, a spokesman for Beale, confirmed Friday that the land is contaminated and that before anything is built there, it would have to be cleaned up.
The neighborhood coalition has been circulating petitions opposing the cellphone tower. Members said they want the land cleaned up and turned into a park and botanical garden.
But the coalition’s president, Carmen L.C. Palmer, said Beale has kept the community in the dark, and he refuses to meet with them to hear their ideas and concerns. Members of the group went to four constituent meetings hosted by the aldermen in May, but he wasn't at any of them, documents provided by the group show.
Coalition members showed up Monday, but Beale's assistant wouldn't let Palmer in, only select members. The group opted out of going if Palmer couldn't come too, Palmer said.
“We want to be able to work with our alderman,” Palmer said. “We want an alderman who believes in the concept of public service, a Democratic process. Several of us have excellent relationships with other elected officials and are very concerned that we have difficulty establishing that with the elected official that takes care of our backyard, our 9th Ward.”
Residents in the community said that Beale hasn’t done a good job in making the community aware of the proposed plans. Beale had a town hall meeting last month, and the cellphone tower wasn’t even on the agenda, Palmer said.
Payne confirmed that the cellphone tower wasn’t on the agenda, but said that the alderman discussed it when an audience member brought up the topic.
Beale was not available for comment. However, in an interview with DNAinfo in 2015, Beale said he sent the cell tower company’s lawyer to a community meeting hosted by the Rosemoor Community Association. That group has also gone on record opposing the tower.
Beale has said he has the community’s best interest in mind and would like to help beautify the lot.
“I don’t want it to just be a cell tower with a wire fence around it,” he told DNAinfo last year. “I’m going to make sure that they landscape it and put some benches there, make it look nice so my seniors who are walking through the community will want to stop there.”
Beale said he wants it to be a “community greeting place” where residents can play checkers and chess.
“That’s crazy,” Palmer said about Beale’s idea. “Why would we hug up under a cancer-producing cellphone tower? Why would we want to substitute one environmental threat with another?”
Coalition members said they are frustrated with what appears to be a lack of concern for their needs.
“Why in the world would our alderman want to put up a cellphone tower on top of contamination?” asked Juanita Clemmons, who has lived in the community since 1970. “We’re trying to beautify where we live, and we have the right to oppose anything that is not right.”
Community member Andrea Jadusingh has shared the coalition's concerns with parents at Cullen Elementary School, 10650 S. Eberhart Ave. The school is less than a block away from the vacant lot.
“For something like this, everyone in the ward should know about this, but no one knows,” she said. “The only way info is getting out to people is through the residents. Beale didn’t have a meeting or anything about this. And this is very dangerous.”
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