Home Latest Stories Ocean City Homeowners Oppose Plan for Cellphone Antennas

Ocean City Homeowners Oppose Plan for Cellphone Antennas

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James Harris, a homeowner on 33rd Street who objects to cellphone antennas in his neighborhood, displays a rendering of Verizon's plan during the City Council meeting on March 23.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Emotions are running high among Ocean City homeowners in the neighborhood of 33rd Street and 34th Street along Haven and Simpson avenues.

They fear that a proposal by Verizon Wireless to install new cellphone antennas on the roof of a commercial building close to their homes will disrupt their neighborhood.

The controversy may come to a head when Verizon’s application to install the antennas at 3337-39 Haven Ave. will be considered for approval by Ocean City’s Planning Board at its meeting 6 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.

The homeowners have appeared at the last two meetings of City Council to urge the governing body to stop the antennas from being built.

However, City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson repeatedly told them that the Planning Board is handling Verizon’s application and that Council is not involved in the matter.

McCrosson also explained that cellphone antennas and towers are mainly regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, not Ocean City.

The neighbors, though, appealed to Council for help anyway.

“We don’t have any protection if they put them wherever they feel like it,” Steve Petrun, who lives at 33rd and Haven, said of Verizon’s antennas during public remarks at Council’s March 23 meeting.

Petrun and other homeowners expressed concerns that the closeness of the antennas to their neighborhood could expose them to potentially harmful levels of radio frequency waves emitted by the antennas.

Kathleen Petrun, Steve Petrun’s wife, said the neighbors are “very upset” with the prospect of having cellphone antennas installed near their homes.

She asked the Council members whether they would like having cellphone antennas built next to where they and their children live.

“I don’t think so,” she said.

Another neighbor of 33rd Street, Louis Vincze, said he is supposed to avoid MRIs, X-ray machines and cellphone towers that emit high levels of energy because of the potential health dangers for the pacemaker he has for his heart.

“I’m concerned because that’s my home,” Vincze told Council of his fear of living close to cellphone antennas if Verizon’s plan is approved.

In response to the neighbors’ concerns, McCrosson said that the Planning Board has hired an independent engineer to look into the health impacts of the antennas.

According to plans, cellphone antennas would be placed on the roof of this two-story building at the corner of 34th Street and Haven Avenue. (Photo courtesy of LoopNet.com)

Frank Worrell, a resident of 33rd Street and Simpson Avenue, told Council that the plan for cellphone antennas so close to a residential neighborhood is an example of the decline of the city’s 34th Street entryway.

“The neighborhood is in flux. It’s not turning good. It’s bad,” Worrell said at the March 9 Council meeting.

According to Verizon’s plan, the antennas would be placed on the roof of a two-story building that now serves as an office for the Compass real estate company at the corner of 34th and Haven.

The owner of the building is Eustace Mita, a hotel and real estate developer who is also a business partner with Mayor Jay Gillian in Gillian’s Wonderland Pier amusement park on the Ocean City Boardwalk.

James Harris, who lives at 33rd and Haven, told Council that he has had difficulty gaining access to Planning Board documents and testimony about the antennas. He called for an audit of the Planning Board’s minutes.

At the March 23 Council meeting, Harris displayed a large cardboard cutout showing a rendering of the cellphone antenna report submitted by Verizon to the Planning Board. He said some of the text for the renderings is so small that it is illegible.

During his remarks to Council on March 23, Harris drew strong objections from Gillian and McCrosson when he asked whether Mita is receiving preferential treatment as the owner of the building where the antennas will be installed because of his business ties to the mayor.

McCrosson quickly responded to Harris’ remarks by saying they bordered on defamation.

Gillian then launched into a lengthy defense of his character and his 13-year tenure as mayor. He strongly denied that he would ever extend personal favors for Mita or anyone else seeking to do business with the city.

“At the end of the day, I love this town. I’ve sacrificed a lot for my family. I’ve given you everything I can. One thing I do not do is lie or take advantage of the taxpayers. I will never do that,” Gillian said.

Harris then backed off, extending his apology to Gillian for suggesting the mayor may have given Mita special treatment.

“I’m awfully sorry about that if that’s the way it came across,” Harris said.

After the meeting, Gillian and Harris shook hands and talked privately.

At the conclusion of his public remarks at the March 23 Council meeting, Gillian assured the homeowners that the city is researching the laws and is willing to extend whatever help it legally can with the cellphone antennas.

“We are doing everything we can,” he said.

Mayor Jay Gillian and 33rd Street homeowner James Harris shake hands after the March 23 City Council meeting.