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Commentary: Give cellphone towers a chance

Erika Strebel is the copy editor for The Daily Reporter.

When she’s not on the phone, Erika Strebel is the copy editor for The Daily Reporter.

I’m the Milwaukee newcomer you might see staring at her cellphone and then staring at street signs, trying not to get lost.

I’m also the woman you might see swearing at her cellphone and not bothering to look at street signs because my phone is searching for service to access Google Maps.

Perhaps it was just overflowing frustration over my carrier’s spotty data service in my new city, but I also directed a few choice words toward some of the residents in Des Moines, Iowa. They are opposed to a church’s installing a disguised cellphone tower in a cross.

Cramming a cellphone tower into a cross is probably a sacrilege, but the opposition is grounded in much more mundane matters. The tower, according to one resident, would hurt property values.

Those kinds of arguments should have disappeared with fanny packs and dot-matrix printers in the 1990s, when people wondered if cellphones and their towers caused cancer and doubted that the devices would be anything more than a fad.

Cellphones are not a fad.

According to a survey conducted by The Wireless Association in 2013, 39.4 percent of households no longer have land lines, and there are 335.65 million active cellular devices in the U.S.

And the soaring demand for better wireless coverage has positioned property owners as suppliers. Wireless providers pay rent on the land where they site towers.


T-Mobile, for example, pays on average between $800 and $2,000 per month in rent to the owner of a cellphone tower site, which usually is a commercial property, company spokesman Mark Wilson said.

For owners of commercial and industrial real estate, making room for a cell tower is a no-brainer.

The towers do not negatively affect surrounding commercial properties, said Jeff Hoffman, broker and vice president for Judson & Associates SC, a commercial and industrial real estate sales company in Waukesha. The value of the property with the tower goes up based on the lease income.

Hosting towers also should be a no-brainer for residential property owners.

Dr. Sandy Bond, a consultant for American Valuation Partners — a litigation, appraisal and real estate consulting company — wrote and co-wrote four studies on cellphone towers on residential properties in Florida and New Zealand and the residents’ perceptions of those towers. Although the scientific community mostly has ruled out cellphone towers as a cause of cancer, people remain wary when towers are built near schools or subdivisions, Bond said.

Their concerns are the reason why towers have an effect on residential property values. Before the mid-1990s, cellphone towers had a more negative effect on those values, most likely because studies had not yet been done on whether electromagnetic radiation is a health concerrn, said Donna Matti, a state-certified residential real estate appraiser and supervising appraiser for Chudnow Druck Valuation Inc., Glendale.

“What people are feeling in the market will be more from what they perceive,” she said, “perhaps feelings from years ago.”

Now, Matti said, the main concern residential property owners should have is whether a cellphone tower can be seen from the property. That could decrease a residential property’s value by 1 to 2 percent, maybe more if there are safety problems, she said.

But let’s be honest. Most of us are too busy looking at our cellphones to notice whether a tower is blocking our view of the sky.

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