Sprint Gets Heat Over Plan to Put Antennas on Firehouse
By Anne Gates
Fire Station 24, at 100 Hoffman Ave., is finally back in business after a lengthy renovation. The historic station, built in 1912, reopened on Feb. 10 and now has room for an extra fire truck. The interior has also been completely remodeled and upgraded. However, one last proposed addition to the building's rooftop has the neighbors alarmed.
Sprint/PCS has asked the city to approve installation of a wireless telecommunications facility on top of the fire station. The facility would include a base transceiver station and several antennas. (PCS stands for Personal Communications Service -- buzz words for the next wave of digital cellular phones.)
The transceiver station would measure 6 feet high by 16 feet wide by 9 feet deep, and would sit on the roof of the building's new annex. The antennas, measuring approximately 5 feet high by 8 inches wide, would be mounted on the top of the old firehouse along the facade.
Sprint initially asked for three 15-foot antennas, but the plan was later modified to include four 5-foot antennas.
Kelly Pepper, of the City Planning Department, says she's heard a good deal of opposition from residents living around the station. "Sprint is aware of the complaints," she says, "and they're trying to set up neighborhood meetings."
On Feb. 10, Sprint attempted to hold such a meeting, but a mix-up in its mailing labels meant that many fire station neighbors failed to get word of the event.
Alvarado Street resident Annelies Habermacher did attend the Feb. 10 meeting, but was disappointed that Sprint did not present any health study research on electromagnetic fields.
"The city should make sure that there is no health risk to the neighborhood," said Habermacher, "and we have seen no studies yet." She also wanted Sprint to show a growth plan and guarantee a maximum number of antennas that could be placed on the fire station.
The issue of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and their possible health risks is controversial and complex. For each study that suggests a correlation between, say, childhood leukemia and EMFs from high-voltage power lines, there is another study that does not find evidence of such a correlation. So far, studies that suggest a link between EMF exposure and certain types of cancer have been inconclusive.
Everyone is exposed to EMFs, which are part of the diverse electromagnetic spectrum. The spectrum includes power fields from x-rays, visible light, radio waves, and electric power systems. Some appliances with the greatest electromagnetic fields are toasters, hair dryers, blenders, and vacuum cleaners. A house with old knob-and-tube wiring would have a higher EMF level than a house with modern wiring.
John Odell, a resident of Hoffman Avenue, is more concerned about the aesthetics of the fire station than with EMF levels. He points out that Station 24 is one of the oldest operating firehouses in the city, and he doesn't want unsightly antennas to mar the building's beauty. Odell calls the wireless communications facility an "atrocity." He also thinks Sprint's efforts at communication with the neighbors have been somewhat fuzzy.
Fellow Hoffman resident Victoria Colgan is also skeptical about allowing antennas on a landmark building. "The firehouse has just been rebuilt, and it's pretty. I don't want to see it spoiled," she said.
The director of public relations for Sprint was out of town and unavailable for comment at press time. However, in late February Pepper said Sprint/PCS was seriously considering finding a new site in Noe Valley for its wireless communication facility.
Pepper added that Sprint still planned to hold neighborhood meetings to discuss residents' concerns and ideas for new locations. "It's difficult," she said, "because there aren't many sites available for these antennas in the neighborhood -- it's so residential."
A Planning Commission hearing on the subject was scheduled for Feb. 13, but was postponed due to a shortage of commissioners at the review. The new hearing is currently scheduled for March 6, but may be postponed again to give Sprint more time to meet with neighbors and to scout locations.
For a meeting update, call Kelly Pepper at the Planning Department, 558-6233 (refer to case no. 97.025CR). To reach the Sprint Community Hotline, call 273-5800.
Meanwhile, firefighters are enjoying the renovated station. Said one station dweller, "We have a new kitchen and new bathrooms. It's a beautiful facility. I like it."
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