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T-Mobile to Hide Cellphone Tower Inside Quaint Burbank Chapel

Don't let the lovely "cupola" being built atop the Little White Chapel in Burbank fool you: T-Mobile plans to fill it with robot guts.

The Burbank City Planning Board just approved T-Mobile's wireless telecommunications facility (or WTF for short; how appropriate!) in early March. And a newly updated city ordinance permitting cellphone towers to be built on churches and schools, which the City Council passed last winter, makes this 12-antennaed beast perfectly legal.

But it still has to get past angry residents:

A group of community activists has filed an "official appeal" against the board's tower approval, says Roy Wiegand, a local father whose home is located 250 feet from the soon-to-be robot chapel.

His daughter also happens to attend Luther Burbank Middle School about 1,000 feet away. Bret Harte Elementary is even closer, with a single city block as buffer.


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T-Mobile's argument, of course, is that a tower embedded in the area would improve residents' cellphone reception.

And thanks to the new Burbank ordinance -- as well as long-standing Federal Communications Commission guidelines saying cellphone towers pose no health risk to humans, even when those humans are inside a building with a tower on top -- T-Mobile does have the upper hand at the Little White Chapel on North Avon Street.

"The city's position is that we have to comply with federal law, and federal law says that cities do not have the authority to make decisions about whether cellphone towers have adverse health effects or not," says Burbank City Planner Michael Forbes.

So is there risk of radiation?

Probably not, but it's hard to say. Like with the controversial "Smart Meters" that utility companies are installing all over California, there are those who believe cancer fears are based on junk science, and those who side with Europe, where officials generally try to keep residents a quarter-mile or so from electromagnetic centers.

If the Burbank City Council hears activists' appeal on May 22 and still sides with T-Mobile and the Planning Board, "that's final," says Forbes.

After that, construction "could start whenever."

Wiegand, who's at the forefront of the tower opposition, says that Reverend Bill Thomas at Little White Chapel has no problem with a tower in his church, and that the congregation will be rewarded handsomely for letting T-Mobile rent its property.

(We've contacted the reverend for comment. Also, to inquire whether any churchgoers have the slightest problem with a WTF factory all up in their house of God.)

"I don't know what kind of agreement they've made," say Forbes, "but typically cell providers do pay some kind of rent."

Another community gripe is the tower's proposed cooling system.

"This cell tower would be on all the time," says appelant Terry Bruse in a statement. "It will be less than 50 feet from my bedroom window. The noise from 24 hours of air conditioning running will be a constant nuisance."

Forbes isn't buying it. "The neighborhood is charactering this as some kind of giant cooling machine, but it's really like two home air conditioners," says the city planner.

But despite all reassurances and federal guidelines, it's hard not to spook at the idea of a 2,000-watt cellphone tower tucked inside a Little White Chapel next to your child's game of hopskotch. Take, for example, this diagram from T-Mobile's application to the city.

T-Mobile to Hide Cellphone Tower Inside Quaint Burbank Chapel
City of Burbank

Creepy, right? If we didn't know better, we'd say the Burbank Planning Board just OKed some kind of institutional alien abduction at 1711 North Avon.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]