Greendale — A proposed cell tower on church property in the village represents different things for different factions.
For residents, the fear of health risks stand out. For a local church, the money generated from a lease of its property would serve its mission. For village officials, it means a controversy over which they have little control.
Many residents are voicing concerns related to a proposed cellphone tower on the St. Stephen the Martyr Lutheran Church property. Some of the worries include decreased property values and, primarily, the unknown health effects of exposure to electromagnetic radiation, though church officials are in part refuting those concerns.
“If we felt in any way this endeavor would endanger the health and lives of anyone in the neighborhood we would not have embarked upon it,” said Joe Konop, evangelism chairman at St. Stephen the Martyr, 6101 S. 51st St.
But residents are concerned nonetheless.
Lori Presley said she and her husband, Craig, who have a 4-year-old grandson living with them who loves to play outside, are both worried about their grandson going out if this tower is right across the street.
“When I open my living room drapes it’ll be staring right at me,” Craig Presley said.
Lori Presley also mentioned there are apartments close by, as well as College Park Elementary School at 5300 W. College Ave.
Richard Cullen’s daughter attends College Park. He said construction of this tower would seriously affect his decision to stay in Greendale.
Julie Lewandowski said she loves living in Greendale but called this proposal a game-changer, citing concerns that people have about the health effects of cell towers.
Acknowledging that the church has referred people to the American Cancer Society website, she echoed a few resident concerns that more sources need to be considered to evaluate such risks.
Kevin Svoboda, who works in health care, said, “as a community, we have to protect our citizens.”
Svoboda cited the World Health Organization as an additional source of information, saying they have higher standards than the United States, at times.
According to the WHO website, “electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Additionally, it states studies are ongoing to assess the potential long-term effects on mobile phone use.
Konop said he understands some residents have concerns about health, saying the church has gone back and forth a lot and did their own research finding some studies say there are dangers while others say they’re safe.
He stressed the tower is going up under FCC regulations; it’s “not something that’s going up rogue.”
Konop said the revenue generated by the proposal would help the church do work "for the betterment of the community."
According to Konop, money from the lease will go to homeless shelters, food pantries, a mission church in Tanzania, and other places.
“As a church, we have a mission and we plan to use these resources to promote our mission,” he said.
The church was approached about 1½ to 2 years ago to lease a portion of their property for the tower to be constructed. The church put the proposal to a vote and 68 percent of parishioners supported construction, Konop said. The tower is planned for the back corner of the church lot, where Konop said a lot of trees would help to obscure it.
Since the proposal became public, Konop said the church has gotten both positive and negative feedback.
“It does upset some people, but other people are happy for expanded coverage,” he said.
Konop said the lease has already been signed.
The Greendale Village Board listened to the various concerns and other comments during a Dec. 20 public hearing. The village is currently reviewing the tower proposal, and a second public hearing is set for the Jan. 17 board of trustees meeting at 7 p.m. Following the public hearing, the proposal will be up for a vote by the board.
However, what the board can do about such concerns is doubtful. One of the biggest problems the village faces is a lack of control regarding the proposal.
The state legislature changed the authority of municipalities when it came to regulating cell towers in 2013. Limits were placed on the extent and the manner in which a municipality can use its zoning authority to regulate the towers, according to Wisconsin State Statute 66.0404. These towers cannot be restricted to certain zoning districts, unlike other uses.
All of the issues brought up during the public hearing do not fall under local municipal control, Village Attorney John Macy said. However, tower proposals still require zoning review and a building permit from the municipality.
“The vast majority of the ability to regulate these things has been stripped (from local government),” Macy said.
“Even if we were to do nothing, in 90 days they can build it,” said Village President Jim Birmingham.
The city of Mequon is also facing a similar situation. The city is currently working on a possible zoning change which would prevent the tower from being constructed in a residential area by requiring a one-to-one ratio for non-residential structures. This means such structures, which includes cell towers, must be as far from residential structures as they are tall.