The leadership of Heritage Presbyterian Church has opted not to install a cell phone tower on church property after the idea created sharp divisions in community opinion.
Pastor Bill Teng said the church’s governing board voted Wednesday night against the Milestone Communications’ proposal to install a treepole at the church, located at 8503 Fort Hunt Road.
“Most of the comments were supporting the treepole,” Teng said. “We felt because there was a minority who were against it, for any reason, we did not want to create any divisions in the community. And that proposal, ultimately is not within the true mission of the church.”
According to T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Milestone Communications, the pole would have stood at 125 feet tall and included a 50-by-50 feet unmanned equipment shelter. The church is located near Waynewood Elementary School, prompting some of the opposition to the tower.
Pete Weichlein, who lives on Waynewood Boulevard, told Patch prior to the church's vote he was against having a tower so close to the school, where two of his children attend class.
“I think the science is still a question mark, and we hear from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health that more data and research is needed,” Weichlein said. “So, to me this is a 125-foot science experiment right next to the elementary school, and I’m not willing to take even the smallest risk with my children’s health, and I don’t think others should make that decision for me.”
Weichlein said more than 200 people signed an online petition against the tower.
According to a website set up by the the wireless companies and Milestone Communications, which has been taken down, current coverage in the Fort Hunt area is “inadequate” and “resulting in dropped calls, poor voice connections and slow or no internet connectivity.” The carriers maintained that common commercial and household items with higher levels of radio frequency exposure include police and mobile radios, FM radio transmitters, cordless phones, baby monitors and wifi routers.
The carriers maintained that the pole would have presented no health or safety hazards to Waynewood students or staff and noted there are more than 20 poles placed directly on county schools grounds already.
Prior to the church’s vote, one local resident in favor of the tower, Waynewood resident Tony Mazzoccoli, told Patch he recognized that some may have health and environmental concerns about the proposed tower, but, for him, safety and security issues took precedence. Mazzoccoli said a few months ago, a burglar broke into a house in the Waynewood neighborhood, and the homeowner chased him all the way down George Washington Parkway.
“He had a cell phone with him, and he called 911 to report it, and it went out to Maryland instead of us,” Mazzoccoli said. “So he had to wait until he could flag someone down from the National Park Service so someone from Fairfax County to take care of the problem. So, you want to have the ability to dial 911 and get someone local from the National Park Police or Fairfax County to address your needs.”
Teng said Verizon first approached the church about erecting a tower two years ago.