The March 2014 Messenger is available now (in PDF format) here. This month's edition features a front page article about the proposed cell antennas in the Epworth Church steeple, a piece from Grady High School student Grace Powers about Manuel's Tavern's chicken-centric sustainability efforts, and a writeup about a new book by author and Candler Park resident Titus Joseph, along with plenty more.
As church and AT&T officials met Tuesday night with the angry parents of preschool students, pressure mounted on Epworth United Methodist Church to reconsider its plan to place cell antennas in its steeple.
“The reality is that AT&T is not going to sue the church” if Epworth abandoned a lease it’s already signed with AT&T, audience member Will Shevlin told the gathering late in the meeting. Shevlin isn’t an Epworth parent but dropped in on the meeting as a nearby Candler Park resident.
The meeting in the church’s sanctuary started out badly: Many of the 30 or so Epworth Day School parents loudly objected to pastor Lisa Dempsey’s announcement that it would be limited to an hour, leaving little time for questions and answers.
That agenda quickly evaporated as parents repeatedly interrupted AT&T Senior Real Estate Manager David Walker with questions that turned toward the topics they wanted to discuss.
In his presentation, Walker did provide new information. He listed three area hospitals, three schools and one church that already have similar antenna arrays. The Georgia Tech campus has seven cell arrays, he said. Parents countered that none of those facilities are preschools.
Walker also noted that just one of two large towers visible from the church’s back door emits a 100,000-watt FM signal (compared to 270 watts planned for the Epworth facility). But parents, many of whom live near the church, countered that buying a home with existing towers in place is different from allowing a new and closer antenna array.
Parents pressed hardest to find out more about the steps necessary for putting up the tower.
One parent asked, “Is there any chance you would change your mind?”
“I can’t answer that question,” Walker answered.
Another asked, “What are the lease terms?”
“That information is proprietary between the company and the church,” Walker responded. “The church can share that with you.”
Parents were particularly irate that news of the antennas broke last week just as many of them were signing their children up to return to school next year. Although Epworth agreed last week to refund pre-enrollment fees to any parents who wished to pull their children out, many have complained that’s it difficult to find space in area preschools by March. They also professed their love for their children's school, which has 69 students, and their regret that they may end up leaving it.
When talk turned to whether the antennas would be operational during the 2014-15 school year, AT&T’s Bryan Curtis said the company might be able to schedule construction for the summer of 2015. That prompted an angry response from the Rev. Dempsey.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard that. The reality is that we don’t know a lot, and we’ve trusted,” she said, looking at Curtis. “We expect to hear accurate, clear, prompt information.”
Some aspects of the situation appear to be dynamic. For example, AT&T officials had previously committed to coming to an open, CPNO-led forum on the antennas; Tuesday night they’d only commit to a meeting with congregation members, which is church leaders may or may not open to the public.
In response to questions on why church leaders signed a lease with AT&T without consulting with the community, Epworth Lay Leader Grady Norman Greene told the group that they couldn’t turn the clock back on the way decisions were made earlier. Both he and Dempsey apologized for not communicating with the community earlier and more effectively.
Parents responded bitterly when Greene told them that now their best route would be to work through the city’s Special Administrative Zoning process, which gives little standing to cell facility opponents. “AT&T is now in control of the process,” he said.
But an opening for common ground seemed to appear when talk turned toward alternatives to the antenna project that might be considered by the financially struggling church. He revealed to the group afterward that revenues from the preschool are greater than the $30,000 that the church expects to get from have AT&T as its cell tenant (it's unclear whether net income from the school tops prospective income from the lease).
“There isn’t anything,” Greene said, “that’s not on the table.”
AT&T Mobility officials presented neighborhood representatives with their case for proposed cell antennas at Epworth United Methodist Church late Monday. It was the first of at least three meetings expected between neighborhood groups and AT&T.
Briefly put, the AT&T argument is that cell network use is growing exponentially, while the infrastructure used to convey signals hasn't kept up. Company engineers long ago identified Candler Park as a zone where young educated families, park and retail visitors, and even the school population was driving demand upward, according to AT&T Senior Real Estate Manager David Walker.
Antennas south of DeKalb Avenue and to the northwest (around Poncey Highland) are pushing the cellphone carrier's local network capacity already, while our neighborhood's ridges, ravines and trees reduce the effective range of radiofrequency waves from those facilities, Walker said.
From Master Plan Coordinating Committee Chair Randy Pimsler: The committee will hold a kickoff meeting on 7 pm, Monday, March 3, at the Epworth Methodist Church. Introductions and general planning will be the primary agenda items, at this time.
Cellphone antennas inside a new, taller Epworth Methodist Church steeple could be completed and operational in as little as six months, according to the contractor who’s representing AT&T on the deal.
But the telephone giant is taking the process more slowly now that some community members have expressed concern about the facility, said Carolyn Gould, project manager for RETEL Services, a company that navigates siting and regulatory issues for cell antennas.
Gould agreed to appear with AT&T officials at a CPNO monthly meeting to answer questions and receive input, but the date for that appearance hasn't yet been set.
“If it can work out, it can be beautiful,” she said of the project. She argued that the Epworth antennas would improve cell coverage within Candler Park, while at the same time relying on relatively low power and also being placed inside a tower that would be architecturally consistent with the existing church. “If you’re moving into a home and you have five bars of coverage, and you can’t see an antenna nearby ... I cannot imagine that not being a benefit.”
Claims that cell towers pose dire health risks have very little basis in medical science, according to the American Cancer Society.
In response to a request for more information about a planned antenna installation at Epworth United Methodist Church, the Rev. Lisa Dempsey e-mailed a Cancer Society information sheet on the topic. Among other things, the information sheet says:
Some people have expressed concern that living, working, or going to school near a cell phone tower might increase the risk of cancer or other health problems. At this time, there is very little evidence to support this idea.
The entire information sheet can be read here. A Federal Communications Commission information sheet on the same topic says much of the same thing.
Epworth's plans have spurred a brushfire of questions about the project in Candler Park over the last couple of days. Many of those questions came from members of the Epworth community who expressed concern that they only learned of plans for the facility through rumors. Dempsey said in an email this evening she's been unable to respond to questions because she's been attending a retreat.
Epworth United Methodist Church has signed a lease to allow AT&T to place cellphone antennas inside a steeple near the corner of Mell and McLendon avenues, according to church officials.
It's unclear whether the antennas would be housed inside the church's current steeple, although it does appear that the existing structure would have to be extended or a new, taller one would be built to meet cell antenna specifications. We're still trying to find out more about prospective timing of the project, as well as whether the facility will require permiting or any other type of public action.
In response to an email from Candler Park resident Kate Sandhaus, the Rev. Lisa Dempsey copied the following note, which had been addressed "To our community":
Epworth UMC at Candler Park was approached by AT & T to be a site for a cellular service. The Trustees and I have spent a good bit of time defining an agreement and paying close attention to the aesthetics of the installation. The cellular antennae will be concealed within the steeple. We have indeed just signed a lease in furtherance of that process. Epworth is committed to this for the benefit of both the church and the community as it will greatly enhance the service and communications (i.e. wireless security systems and 911 responses) for our neighborhood. We hope you will join us in the appreciation of how this installation will allow for a reliable service that will enhance our community life together.
Reverend Lisa Dempsey, Pastor
Trustees Chair, Jim Pelot
Epworth's plan took Candler Park neighbors by surprise. In email and phone messages over the last two days, several parents of children who attend pre-school at Epworth said they hadn't been told about the project but were hearing rumors; they asked CPNO board members to provide information.
(UPDATE: Dempsey responds with more information about cell antennas.)
The only confirmed information I've been able to obtain so far came in the form of Dempsey's e-mail to Sandhaus, on which Sandhaus had copied me. In a followup response, Dempsey wrote:
I am not in a place to provide specs, but generally, the community should not expect anything but better service. Our steeple will be higher, but visually, the new way of doing things is to put all antennae inside the steeple, so the presenting appearance is a church steeple. Some equipment will be on the property behind a brick wall (gated and secured) that will match the building brick.
I've been unable to reach Dempsey or Pelot today via email, but will let you know as we get more information.
CPNO members interrogated three politicians, appointed our Master Plan Coordinating Committee, scarfed down a stack of pizzas, guzzled several bottles of wine, and tackled a series of other issues during Monday’s night’s monthly meeting.
DeKalb Commissioner Kathie Gannon and state Senate candidate Elena Parent are each appearing at tonight's CPNO General Meeting at the Old Stone Church (470 Candler Park Drive).
Gannon (right) — one of two DeKalb commissioners to represent Candler Park — is coming to get feedback on her proposals to reform DeKalb County government. As you may know, DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis has been indicted on corruption charges, and there's a lot of noise in DeKalb about the county's governing challenges.
Parent, a Democrat from Decatur, is one of three people (that I know of) who already are running for the seat that state senator (and CP resident) Jason Carter plans to give up this year to run for governor. We'll try to get other candidates to CPNO meetings in time for the May primary.
Also on the agenda: CPNO-Trees Atlanta tree planting March 22, Master Plan Coordinating Committee nominees, the CP Music & Food Festival (formerly Midsummer Music) Festival, and many more fast-moving, fun-packed topics for your enjoyment!