Portsmouth residents oppose plans for cell tower: ‘We will fight it as long as necessary’

People living in one Portsmouth neighborhood are upset about plans to build a cell tower close to their homes.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — People living in one neighborhood are upset about plans to build a cell tower close to their homes.

A company wants to put the tower in a grassy area on Peninsula Avenue, but neighbors say they want to put a stop to it.

Plans for a tower in the Westbury neighborhood started a year ago. There were two potential locations.

Residents fought against the first one and they’re doing the same thing now with the second.

Photos submitted with the application to the city planning department show where the new cell tower could be.

Illustration of proposed cell tower site

It would be 150 feet high, 3 feet in diameter at the base and one and a half feet at the top. The tower would not have lights, so it would be invisible at night.

Based on the application, the tower would be behind Lawrence Owes’ home and across from Tressa Hundley’s.

“I’m opposed to the placement. I think they can find a more suitable placement,” Owes told 10 On Your Side.

The retired Director of Social Services has lived in his home on Talley Circle four years.

“I would love for the tower to never go up in a residential neighborhood,” Hundley said.

She has also lived in her home four years.

They both said they don’t want it near them. Hunley spent time last week distributing letters for residents to sign in opposition of the plan.

Owes has also been sharing information with neighbors on how to contact city officials.

“We’re not going to let this happen simply by walking in. We will fight it as long as necessary,” Owes said.

Notice to area property owners 

Hundley is concerned about any possible health impacts.

“There have been frequencies that have been high levels of frequencies that have been even blocks away,” she explained.

We took their concerns to Lisa Murphy, the attorney representing P. I. Tower Development LLC. That’s the company applying for the tower that T-Mobile and possibly up to two other carriers could use.

“The emissions from this tower are going to be thousands of times below the maximum permissible exposure limits that are set by the FCC,” Murphy said.

She continued, “The emissions from the tower at ground level will be less than the emissions from the phone sitting in your pocket or sitting in your purse or sitting in your desk or from most of the standard appliances that you have in your home.”

Murphy told 10 On Your Side that the Peninsula Avenue location was the second one selected by the company. The first was on Elm Avenue.

After extensive discussion with neighbors, the company withdrew that application because of concerns about how visible and close to homes the tower would have been.

“We made the decision that we would keep looking to see if we could find a location that might be more suitable,” Murphy said.

According to Murphy, the company met with the Westbury Civic League twice this year (In April and October) and believed the new location would be a better fit.

“Obviously we haven’t made everybody happy but we do feel like this is a good site,” she said. “I think the concerns in this case are really unfounded and we tried to the extent possible to really address those concerns.”

Murphy told 10 On Your Side, “It’s a tough balance identifying an appropriate location for wireless facility because you have to take into account FCC regulations, you have to take into account location zoning requirements, we have to find a willing landlord.”

The property at Peninsula Ave. belongs to ACT & Associate, LLC.

Cecil Goodwin, the husband and father of the company owners, said his son was approached by a company asking to lease space for a communications tower. During a phone call on Tuesday afternoon he said he wasn’t aware that anyone opposed the plans.

Owes said, “If he can make money off his property that’s fine but not at my expense.”

“Getting paid how much ever money you receive per month or however it’s being leased, is that worth our lives?” Hundley questioned.

However Murphy explained, “Folks expect their phones to work wherever they happen to be, especially at home. So we’ve increasingly found that we’ve had to bring the antennas closer to neighborhoods and residential areas.”

She continued, “As we are working hard to really make sure folks have good reliable wireless coverage in their homes for not only their smartphones but all of their wireless devices, we have to get closer and closer to the residential communities that we want to serve.”

The Portsmouth planning department staff is expected to give its recommendation to the full planning commission members Wednesday. The commission will meet and vote on the plan on Tuesday, December 5. Their decision will then be sent to the Portsmouth City Council for a vote.

10 On Your Side has learned that the proposal for a tower on Peninsula Ave. is not the only one on Tuesday’s agenda. There is also a proposal for a tower behind the Victory Crossing Shopping Center.

Here are the details on the Planning Commission meeting:

WHAT: PUBLIC HEARING PORTSMOUTH PLANNING COMMISSION

DATE: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 5

TIME:  1:30 p.m.

LOCATION:  CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS, 801 CRAWFORD STREET, 6th Floor, PORTSMOUTH, VA 23704

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