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Clearwire’s proposed 80-foot ‘stealth’ tower has residents reaching for phones to complain

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Four years after thwarting a bid by Clearwire to construct a towering antenna on the grounds of Mililani Iki Elementary, Mililani Mauka residents are organizing to oppose a new bid by the Internet carrier to construct an even taller antenna just a few yards away.

The Mililani Town Association is considering a request by Clearwire to erect an 80-foot tree-shaped "stealth" antenna between the elementary school and the community’s Recreation Center VII. The antenna would allow Clearwire to improve service to the upper areas of Mililani Mauka.

Should the association accept the request, the proposal would be forwarded for approval to the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting.

At a pair of community meetings last month, residents opposed the proposed project, arguing that it would negatively affect the aesthetics of the planned community, thereby lowering property values. They also chafed at what they saw as another commercial incursion on their residential neighborhood, one that could potentially open the door for other companies to erect their own antennas.

Some residents also are concerned about potential health risks related to radio frequency emissions from the antenna, although the Telecommunications Act of 1996 precludes the city from regulating "the placement, construction and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basic of environmental effects of radio frequency emissions."

At a June 15 meeting of the Mililani Mauka/Launani Valley Neighborhood Board, about 25 residents offered comments regarding the antenna. Only one expressed support for the plan. The board voted 5-0 to oppose the project.

"Part of the problem is that the area is pretty flat," said board Chairman Dean Hazama. "There’s nothing, no trees. I don’t know how they are going to attempt to camouflage an 80-foot pole on that parcel of land with nothing around it."

Residents said they value the open space and unobstructed skyline their neighborhood affords. They said the antenna, however it is disguised, would be a blight on the otherwise flat, open landscape.

"I moved (to Mililani Mauka) to get away from all of that ugly stuff," said Karen Howard, who lives near the proposed site. "The plans called for a water tank and a rec center. Nobody said anything about an 80-foot antenna. If I had known about this, I wouldn’t have moved here."

Howard stressed that she is not opposed to technology; rather, she believes the space between the school and the center "is not the appropriate place."

Shelly Nakasone, a Realtor associate with RE/MAX Honolulu and Mililani Mauka resident, said the antenna could lower the market price for homes in the immediate area by as much as $50,000, based on the sales history of homes in other areas where antennas are located.

Nakasone said that other areas of Mililani already have been overrun by antennas, and she fears that approval of a new one "in the middle of our beautiful community" will pave the way for further projects at Mililani Mauka.

"Everybody wants our business, and we feel like we’re being bombarded," Nakasone said. "Once one company is allowed to put an antenna here, other companies won’t have to go through the same procedures, and we’ll end up with a forest of fake trees."

In 2006 about 280 community members signed a petition opposing Clearwire’s bid to build a 60-foot antenna at Mililani Iki. The plan was eventually scuttled by the school’s principal.

There are two antennas already located near the community’s Recreation Center V; however, the area, just off the freeway offramp, is surrounded by trees and is not heavily populated.

Clearwire General Manager Ray Kakuda was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Mililani Town Association President Will Kane said no decision has yet been made on Clearwire’s request.

"It’s still up in the air," Kane said. "We have to consider what is best for the community as a whole."

Kane said renting the site to Clearwire would expand broadband access options for residents in upper Mililani Mauka while generating income that would help to defray potential increases in maintenance assessment fees paid by association members.

In an informational briefing posted on the Mililani Town Association website, the association notes that eight existing cellular antenna easement agreements generate nearly $170,000 in revenue each year, equivalent to about $11 in maintenance assessment fees for the association’s 15,831 members.

Kane declined to say how much Clearwire would pay each year to rent the space.

Kane said concerns over how the project would affect the appearance of the neighborhood would be addressed by planting trees in the area around the antenna. Such landscaping was part of the original planning but was never carried out.

The Mililani Town Association is expected to make a decision on the antenna request at its regularly scheduled Aug. 10 board meeting, which is open to association members.

Meanwhile, residents opposed to the project are planning to collect signatures for a petition to be presented to the association. Those concerned about the antenna project are asked to call 284-3878.

 

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