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T-Mobile, YMCA should have signaled about plan for Brandon cell phone tower

NIMBY is the well-worn acronym familiar to community activists, zoning experts and land-use lawyers when residents clash with a developer looking to enhance — or ruin, depending on your perspective — a community.

Not In My Back Yard.

For me, however, NIMBY means "Now, It's My Back Yard." T-Mobile wants to place a cellular tower within walking distance of my neighborhood, next to the Brandon Cowboys Youth Football and Cheerleading complex where my daughter cheers. The proposal to erect the tower on Brandon YMCA property at 3097 S Kingsway Road goes before a 6 p.m. zoning hearing at County Center on Monday.

Not surprisingly, some residents in the Seffner/North Brandon area express dismay with the proposal for a number of reasons. It's the newest chapter in a debate that has played out in South Tampa, East Tampa, New Tampa and at Valrico's Cimino Elementary.

In each case, some parents objected to cell towers being placed on school property partly because of concerns about the health effects of exposing students to the towers, which government regulators have deemed safe.

The dispute in this case differs only slightly given that the Brandon YMCA location is just west of Seffner Elementary, north of New Jerusalem Christian Academy and south of the North Brandon Little League and the aforementioned Cowboys, where I recently served on the board.

It's essentially the epicenter for youth sports in the North Brandon/Seffner area.

Approximately 10 residents met with an attorney representing T-Mobile on Oct. 7 at the Brandon YMCA. Small crowd, I know. But they insisted more people would have been in attendance if the cell phone carrier or the YMCA had bothered to notify nearby residents.

Those present expressed several objections including concerns about the tower emissions, property values, aesthetics and lightning strikes. Leading the protest is longtime YMCA member Joan Zawlocki, 54, and Denise Verrill, 40, a nearby resident and stay-at-home mom.

Zawlocki, who has a daughter in the YMCA's gymnastics program, and Verrill, whose children attend Seffner Elementary, have both spent the past week picketing in front of the Brandon YMCA.

"A lot of people give me a big thumbs up when they drive by," said Verrill, who doesn't use a cell phone. "I don't know if I can stop it, but I'm going to try my darndest. I want to be able to tell my kids 'I did everything I could to keep you safe.' "

You can find studies on both sides of the emissions' argument, but T-Mobile insists the cell-tower emissions pose no harm.

"The emissions are at a much lower power than you would find in a microwave oven or a baby monitor," said T-Mobile spokeswoman Ann Brooks.

Brooks said T-Mobile has not experienced any problems with lightning because of the tower's grounding system. The tower will be fashioned as a lighted flagpole and will fly a standard U.S. flag. Brooks added that T-Mobile has done a number of studies indicating cell tower structures have no impact on property values.

Suzette Armatas, Tampa Metro YMCA vice president of marketing, notes that the cell tower was likely to go up somewhere in the area. The YMCA, she said, provides usable land without interfering with any residential zoning.

Armatas also said there have been no problems with a cell tower located for the past three years at its Northwest YMCA on Sheldon Road in Town 'N Country.

T-Mobile leases the land from the YMCA and while neither party would reveal the terms of the agreement, Armatas said the money would go toward general operations at the Brandon YMCA.

So if it's all good, why not trumpet the installation from the highest mountain top?

Armatas said her organization will wait until the approval comes through before notifying members and residents. But objections can't really be addressed after the fact. The YMCA had to know some residents might object, so the lack of notification to neighbors and neighboring institutions is disheartening.

Yes, T-Mobile and the YMCA met the legal obligation by posting a notification of Monday's hearing. But why not notify the youth sports organizations, the schools and neighbors in writing about the Oct. 7 community meeting? Why not post a meeting notice on the well-lit marquee in front of the YMCA?

Why not address all the concerns instead of employing a lack of transparency? T-Mobile has been in discussions with the YMCA since February and we're only learning about it now?

"Being a small, tight-knit community, I would like to think our neighbors would notify us," said Jason Johnson, athletic director of the Brandon Cowboys.

I've written a number of favorable columns about the YMCA and probably will in the future. I'm a cell phone user so I don't want to be a hypocritical NIMBY. I understand increasing customer demands merit better service.

But to use a term favored by the kids who play in and around the Brandon YMCA, it would have been nice if we got a heads up on this issue.

That's all I'm saying.

T-Mobile, YMCA should have signaled about plan for Brandon cell phone tower 10/15/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:46pm]
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