A federal court decision halting the construction of a proposed cell tower complex is being hailed as a major victory for Wantagh residents who have been fighting the plan for years.
In 2010, the Town of Hempstead’s Board of Appeals rejected T-Mobile’s proposal to install six cell phone towers on the roof of the Farmingdale-Wantagh Jewish Center, now Congregation Beth Tikvah, on Woodbine Avenue. On July 23, the decision was affirmed by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
“We’re very grateful that this decision came down,” said Pam Dempsey, co-president of the Wantagh Civic Association. “It would have been extremely unsightly, because the temple backs up to a residential neighborhood. We take a lot of pride in our neighborhood.”
Dempsey said that the towers would have been only 50 to 75 feet away from the homes closest to the temple.
“This is a great victory for the homeowners that don’t have to have these unsightly towers to look at,” added Ella Stevens, president of the Wantagh Seaford Homeowners Association.
T-Mobile, which challenged the Board of Appeals’ decision in court, released a statement saying that it was disappointed with the ruling. “Everyone loses when we halt this progress, since the majority of Americans rely on their wireless service,” said spokeswoman Jane Builder. “We look forward to continuing our dialogue with town officials on ways to bring the critical improvements in public safety, economic vitality and enhanced community connections that Town of Hempstead residents deserve.”
Builder did not say whether T-Mobile would appeal further.
Leaders of Congregation Beth Tikvah say they were satisfied with the ruling. Ray Bazini, the temple president since July 1, said that the cell tower plan was pursued by different leadership with different priorities.
Bazini, who has family in the neighborhood, said he understood the concerns of surrounding homeowners. In the spirit of being a good neighbor, he added, the temple is no longer interested in pursuing this plan, even though it would have benefited financially. “If everyone’s content and happy,” he said, “then we’re happy.”
The Farmingdale-Wantagh Jewish Center, the product of a merger of two temples in 2007, was renamed in 2012. Dempsey said that residents hold no ill will toward the temple, and view it as a good neighbor.
"The neighborhood should feel really good," said Nassau County Legislator David Denenberg who assisted residents in stopping the cell tower. "They showed that with pulling together a lot can be accomplished."
Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, Councilwoman Angie Cullin and Councilman Gary Hudes said they all agreed with neighbors who were concerned that the cell towers would alter the suburban character of their neighborhood and affect property values.
“The court’s decision to dismiss this case signifies another crucial victory for Hempstead Town and Wantagh neighbors,” Murray said. “The proposal never conformed to the character of this cherished suburban community, and we’re thrilled that our preservation efforts have been rewarded.”
Dempsey added that the support of town officials was an important factor in the case. She said that although residents have scored a victory here, they must remain vigilant about future proposals for cell towers in the area. “We still want to make sure that the town is protecting its citizens,” she said. “We’re thrilled and we’re happy, but it’s also a cautious approach to it.”
When the tower proposal first came to light, Dempsey and others took part in numerous rallies against it, at Wantagh High School and Town Hall. They also pushed for revisions to town laws governing cell tower placement, which ultimately were approved.
A law passed in September 2010 encourages “co-location” of transmission equipment on existing cell towers. Cell companies requesting new towers must conduct balloon tests to show the towers’ proposed height, and inform the community about the tests.
“While this victory is sweet, we’ll continue to remain vigilant in the face of other potentially troublesome cell antenna applications …,” Murray said. “I thank the neighbors of Wantagh for their hard work and tireless efforts in preserving the suburban nature of our communities …”
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