Thursday, March 6, 2008

City should have power to keep (cellphone) towers out of Neighbourhoods

Peterborough, Ontario.

Out of place; City should have power to keep towers out of neighbourhoods

Updated 1 day ago

A 14-storey tall transmission tower doesn't belong in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, and city council should be able to keep it out.

That specific example refers to the situation in the Valleyview Drive subdivision, just north of Parkhill Road and south of Jackson Park, where Telus Mobility wants to stick a cellphone tower.

Many of the neighbouring homeowners object, but are having a hard time getting anywhere. The roadblock they face is that no local authority has any say in the matter. Whether the tower gets a thumbs up or thumbs down is entirely up to a federal agency, Industry Canada.

And while a growing number of recent disputes between homeowners and cellphone companies has led Industry Canada to require the national telephone companies to consult locally as part of their tower applications, talk is all that is required.

So it might not make any difference that city council on Monday night listened to both the residents and Telus and then agreed the 42-metre tower (with a Canadian flag on top to disguise it) should not be permitted at 868 Valleyview Dr.. Industry Canada doesn't have to follow any local recommendation.

A Telus lawyer made that point several times during the meeting: City council has no constitutional jurisdiction to regulate federal affairs.

However, Telus isn't completely blind to the public relations effects of forcing its tower on a bunch of homeowners. Lawyer Stephen D'Agostino said the company will look elsewhere in the Valleyview Drive area. That's hardly a promise, though, and it raises the question of why the company is still pursuing this site if it is ready to consider alternatives.

The surprise is that the company hasn't already backed off the Valleyview site, and that Industry Canada regulations even make such a location possible over the objections of homeowners.

The problem is that the wrong criteria are being applied to applications, in the wrong forum. Industry Canada regulates the technical aspects of cellphone transmission and gives some weight to public safety. It is interested in whether a tower is necessary to provide a cellphone signal to users and whether it performs that function effectively.

In the Valleyview situation, and in similar disputes across the country, homeowners have other worries. They fear the potential harmful health effects of electromagnetic radiation. They worry that the sale price of their homes will drop. And they believe that if a hugely tall tower is suddenly looming over their backyards, they won't enjoy their homes as much.

Neither the health nor property value concern has been proven conclusively, and cellphone tower radiation is well within Health Canada's 1,000 microwatts per square centimetre "safe" range for emission of radiation.

Regardless of whether health or property value concerns are valid, towers don't belong in neighbourhoods. Their location is a land use issue that should be controlled by local municipal councils through zoning and site plan approvals.

The Valleyview Drive site is zoned for housing. A developer wanting to put a convenience store or a pub there would have to apply for a rezoning, and almost certainly wouldn't get it. People don't want a bar in the middle of their street and they don't want a 14-storey "flagpole." Zoning regulations exist to protect them and cellphone companies shouldn't be allowed to skirt those regulations.

Two other tower sites Telus has applied for in the city haven't raised any objections. Both are on commercial sections of Lansdowne Street, where such towers belong. The company should find a similarly acceptable location along Parkhill Road and leave the Valleyview neighbours to enjoy their homes.

And between them, the federal and provincial governments should see to it that the location of cell towers is subject to local zoning control.

Article ID# 929350

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