As the mother of two young sons who have years to go at Shore Acres Elementary School, Kathy Crow is concerned about a cell phone tower being proposed for city of St. Petersburg-owned property next door.
Crow and other parents opposed to the tower have done their research and think there's still much that's unknown about the dangers posed by wireless communications towers. The merest possibility of a health hazard shouldn't be dismissed, they say.
"To me, where young children are concerned, it's better to err on the side of conservatism,'' said Cindy Therrell, whose children, 5 and 7, attend Shore Acres.
Said Crow: "We're talking about elementary school children. Their brains are still developing.''
Linda Nelson is also worried. She lives about a mile away and has a 4-year-old son who will enter the elementary school this fall.
"I think that what's going to come to pass is we're going to find out this is bad,'' she said.
But yet others who suffer with poor cell phone reception in neighborhoods with weak signals voice concerns of their own. They talk about trekking outside to driveways, patios and decks in often futile attempts to snatch can-you-hear-me-now cell phone conversations.
"I think everybody complains it's like going into an abyss,'' said City Council member Bill Dudley, who represents the district.
"At my house, I get one or two bars, but there are a lot of people that don't have any service at all,'' said Chris Dailey, president of the Shore Acres Civic Association.
Wally Guthrie, a former board member of the Venetian Isles Homeowners' Association, said reliable cell phone service is not simply a matter of convenience, but vital for emergencies.
Neighborhood leaders say the tower planned for the site just east of 1160 62nd Ave. NE and next to the Northeast Waste Water Treatment Plant could be the answer to their connection problems. The city is looking for a cell tower company to lease the site. The City Council would have to approve the lease.
Julie Weston, director of development services, said the city is reviewing proposals from companies interested in the project.
The hope is to provide reliable cell phone coverage from Fourth Street N east to Tampa Bay and 83rd Avenue N/NE south to 40th Avenue N and 38th Avenue NE.
The monopole would rise a minimum of 150 feet. Zoning for the project would have to be approved by the Development Review Commission.
Therrell, one of the Shore Acres Elementary School parents, said she is unlikely to speak at any public hearing.
"My husband is an engineer. He says there is nothing to worry about. We're definitely a house divided on this,'' she said.
"Honestly, at first I didn't have any concern about it, but the more I researched it, there hasn't been enough history to substantiate whether or not it is safe or a health risk. My concern is the proximity to the school. … I don't want my kids being guinea pigs.''
What some parents might not know is that cell towers — revenue-making propositions for schools, condominiums, churches and other willing sites — have been built on Pinellas County School District properties. Of the current six, two are at elementary schools.
In Hillsborough County recently, parents unsuccessfully tried to get the County Commission to establish a moratorium on towers on school property.
As a parent, Dudley said he sympathizes with Shore Acres parents.
"The unknown is always a concern. By the same token, we can only go by what the experts tell us. Based on what they say, there is no danger,'' he said. "If I thought there was a danger, I would definitely be against it.''
Crow, membership coordinator for the PTA, has sent a mass e-mail telling members about the tower. She said the association is considering calling an emergency general meeting to discuss the matter.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.