Cell towers planned for two churches

NG Kerk in Bothasig where another application for rezoning was proposed.

Two Dutch Reformed churches – one in Bothasig and another in Table View – stand to benefit from a deal that would allow a company to build cell towers on their premises.

Residents have until Monday September 11 to lodge objections to the free-standing base station proposed for the church at 7 Nassau Street, Bothasig, and until September 18 for the 25m-high free-standing base station proposed for the church at 41 Grey Avenue, Table View.

The Table View site is less than 50m away from Little Camelot nursery school and about 150m from Vue du Cape retirement village. The Bothasig site is about 50m from the ACVV Bothasig Creche.

Table View Dutch Reformed Church elder Johannes Mouton confirmed the church stood to earn rent from a deal with Atlas Tower, a firm leasing wireless infrastructure, but he would not say how much.

Bothasig Dutch Reformed Church minister Gustav Meyer said Atlas had offered to rent the church premises, but no deal had been signed and money had not been discussed yet. That would happen if the application got the nod.

A municipal notice of the Bothasig application was in a daily newspaper on Friday August 11. The Table View application appeared a week later, on Friday August 18.

Residents who object to cell towers going up in their neighbourhoods usually cite concerns about the effects they have on the area’s aesthetics, their health and their property values.

Graeme Kaplan lives less than 100 metres from the Bothasig church. He complained that the City had not given residents enough time to consider the application.

“The residents should be given a longer period of time to do their own research and understand the implications thereof,” he said. “People have to study the 29-page plan document as well as the 47-page telecommunication mast infrastructure policy.”

He only received his letter notifying him about the application on Thursday August 17, almost a week after it appeared in the newspaper – the municipal notices are not a section most ratepayers rush to, if at all.

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said cell tower emissions had to meet the standards set by World Health Organisation, the national Department of Health and the City’s health department. These all complied with the safety regulations of the International Commission on Non-ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

James Lech, who is doing research at Rhodes University on the dangers of cell tower radiation, said that when cell towers were installed no one but the installers knew just how much radiation was emitted and emissions could vary depending on size and angle of the tower.

He said cell tower emissions could pose a risk to vulnerable groups.

“Children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses are more susceptible to this and this can cause ill health and possibly more serious issues to pre-existing conditions.”

Henco Pretorius, legal adviser for Atlas Tower, said the company complied with all rules on siting and running communication facilities.

“Our communication facilities are exponentially below both South Africa’s accepted Electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure limits and all international accepted standards,” said Mr Pretorius.

Atlas Tower would not disclose which cell network would use the towers, citing a confidentiality agreement.

A woman who answered the phone at the ACVV Bothasig Creche would not give her name and said only the principal could comment but she was unavailable.

The woman said: “We have been advised not to speak about this.” She wouldn’t comment further.

Little Camelot’s owner, Pepe dos Santos, said he hadn’t heard about the application until Tabletalk called him for comment. He said he would study the proposal before deciding whether to object or not.

Ward 5 councillor Helen Carstens said she had asked that the mast in her ward of Bothasig, if approved, be disguised to blend in.

“The design that does this the best is when it is disguised as a tree,” she said.

Bothasig Residents’ Association chairman Clive Owen said committee members would peruse the City’s policy on cell mast infrastructure before deciding whether to object or not.

Mandy da Matta, vice-chair of Table View Ratepayers’ Association, said Table View residents were concerned but couldn’t be sure about how much radiation was emitted from cell towers.

“The jury is still out on whether this will have a negative or positive impact on the community. On one hand, the cell towers will help people get better reception but on the other hand there are these health concerns. So we are in a catch-22 situation.”

Mr Meyer said there was “no clear indication about whether this will be a health risk”. The church was still waiting for feedback from the City and would “listen to the community as to what is best for them and the area”.

Mr Mouton said Atlas had contact the church saying there was a “signal problem” in the area.

“We agreed they can build the station but only if they go through the correct channels and adhere to the municipality rules and regulations and neighbour’s permissions”.

Mike Abrahamse, from Rawson properties, said while it was hard to pinpoint the impact of cell towers had on property values, a buyer “would rather buy a property where no such structure is visible”, and while the jury might still be out on whether cell tower radiation was a health threat, the perception that it might be, was, in itself, enough to deter buyers.

A woman who answered the phone at Vue du Cape said they would be meeting today, Wednesday August 30, to discuss the cell tower application at the Table View Dutch Reformed Church, but she declined to comment further or identify herself.