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Fate of Wantagh Cell Tower Proposal In Hands of Hempstead BZA

T-Mobile's plan for wireless project on top of local temple presented in over six hour zoning board hearing.

Dozens of concerned Wantagh residents showed up at an over six-hour zoning board hearing in Hempstead Town Hall Wednesday to voice opposition to T-Mobile's proposed cell tower that would be built on the roof of a local temple. After hearing arguments from both sides, the hearing was closed and the controversial project's fate is now in the hands of the Hempstead Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).

T-Mobile went before the Hempstead BZA requesting permission to install six concealed wireless communication antennas and equipment cabinets on the roof of the Farmingdale Wantagh Jewish Center. Many residents who live in close proximity to the synagogue on 3710 Woodbine Ave., Wantagh, expressed concerns over the project decreasing property values in the area as well as posing potential health risks.

Pamela Dempsey, who co-founded the Wantagh Civic Association in response to T-Mobile's proposal, said during the hearing she has helped gather nearly 700 petitions of people against the project. "The view is going to be outrageous," said Dempsey. "It is going to look like prison towers are up."

T-Mobile attorney Robert Gadioso presented several experts who testified during the hearing that the proposed cell tower would not jeopardize home values nor pose safety risks, and was important in terms of boosting wireless service in the Wantagh area. "None of the antennas will be visible as they will be screened," said Paul K. Gartelmann, an associate with William F. Collins Architects in Setauket, during his testimony on behalf of T-Mobile.

Martin Sorrentino, who has lived on Park Avenue since 1994 and is a licensed real estate associate/broker, said in his opposition comments during the hearing that he has 19 signatures of realtors with Wantagh addresses requesting that the Hempstead BZA reject T-Mobile's application. "Homeowners do not like living near cell phone towers or facilities as evidenced by the community involvement every time a site in a residential area is proposed," said Sorrentino. "The fear factor, whether justified or not is real."

Another resident who spoke in opposition was Felicia Onufrey, who has lived directly across from the Farmingdale Wantagh Jewish Center since 1992. "If these [cell] structures were on top of the temple in 1992 I would not have moved into this house," she said.

On Sept. 21 the Hempstead Town Board approved legislation aimed at banning new cell towers or antennas within 1,500 feet of homes, schools, daycare centers or houses of worship. However the distance restrictions in the town's new ordinance do not apply to cell tower applications that had already been scheduled to go before the zoning board including T-Mobile's Wantagh proposal, according Hempstead Town Attorney Joe Ra.  

"We will make a decision that hopefully is within the law, which we have to start with, and within the evidence that has been presented to us," said Hempstead BZA chairman David Weiss at the conclusion of the over six-hour hearing. "We will do this as quickly as possible because I know that everybody is looking to get a resolution on this."

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