Residents of Esquimalt building concerned about potential effect of cellphone antennas

Non-profit housing operator insists cell tower revenue is important to keep rent affordable for tenants

Constance Court resident Giovanni Borella is concerned about the cellphone towers installed on the roof of the complex.

Giovanni Borella pays $375 per month for a top-floor apartment with all new fixtures and a great view.

But he’s willing to give it all up to get away from what he fears are damaging radio frequencies overhead.

The Greater Victoria Housing Society, which runs his 52-unit building in Esquimalt, leases space on its rooftop to three telecommunications companies, which have set up numerous cellphone antennas.

“Some of the research I’ve been doing on my own indicates that there is a potential health hazard for so many of those cell phone towers to be in close proximity to people,” Borella said.

“I’m literally 15 feet from this conglomeration of cellphone towers.”

Several current or past residents of Constance Court, at 1325 Esquimalt Rd., have brought their concerns recently to Esquimalt council.

Council directed township staff to look into whether local governments have the ability to respond to this type of concern.

The short answer is no.

“Courts have held that parameters such as the height and location of the antenna sites are vital to telecommunications,” stated a staff report discussed at the June 18 council meeting.

Therefore, local government regulations do not apply if they impair the ability of telecommunications companies to place antennas in optimal locations, it continued.

Esquimalt council found the answer unacceptable.

“Municipalities should have jurisdiction, just as they do over all other land-use decisions, over the location and level of these telecommunications antennas in their community,” Coun. Tim Morrison said on Tuesday.

“Municipalities would then be able to set an appropriate community consultation and approval process, which currently doesn’t exist.”

Council voted unanimously June 18 to send a resolution to that effect to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Admitting he is no expert on the health and safety of the antennas, Morrison said community aesthetics are of “huge concern” to him.

“When you start putting excessive amounts of these antennas on rooftops all over the community, it starts to have a really negative affect.”

The issue gets more complicated, however, when it comes to non-profits.

Kaye Melliship, executive director of the Greater Victoria Housing Society, says the antennas represent a significant source of revenue.

Leases with three telecommunications companies bring in $45,500 annually, most of which is allocated to opening new affordable housing projects.

“We’re always looking for money to do our business and keep our housing affordable, so it’s very important,” Melliship said.

While she acknowledged residents’ concerns, she points out the antennas are properly licensed and regulated.

“We’re going under the assumption that they are perfectly safe, and if you don’t believe the science, then you have to make your own choices,” she said. “There’s nothing more we can do about that.”

Constance Court resident Attila Szabo, however, questions residents’ ability to make a free choice.

While condo owners can vote on whether to install communications towers, he and other residents at Constance Court weren’t given opportunity for input. Moreover, they can’t easily find another subsidized apartment, he argued.

“The people that want to move out of here are kind of stuck (saying), ‘Gee, I don’t really feel it’s healthy for me, but if I move, I lose my subsidy,’” he said.

rholmen@vicnews.com

Did you know?

Here is Health Canada’s official view on wireless technology:

“Cellphone towers consist of antennas and electronic equipment which serve as hubs for cellphones and local wireless networks. … Health concerns are sometimes expressed by people who live or work near cellphone tower antennas located on towers, poles, water tanks or rooftops. Yet, the consensus of the scientific community is that RF energy from cellphone towers is too low to cause adverse health effects in humans.”