Give And Take On Pleasant Church Cell Antennae Debate

[Editor’s note: With the successful citizen’s petition, a Special Town Meeting – the date sometime in June to be determined by the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday, May 4 – will be convened to debate changing the zoning bylaw to require the installation of interior wireless telecommunication antennae to obtain a special permit rather than the current zoning distinction of an “as of right.” This change would specifically place a greater burden on the attempt by Verizon to place a cell antennae inside the steeple of the Plymouth Congregational Church on Pleasant Street. Currently, a significant number of neighbors to the church are protesting the partnership and the communications device. Belmont are two opinions on the matter, both from Pleasant Street.]

Some comments were shortened.

John Beaty

I write to my neighbors, the Plymouth Congregational Church, and the Belmont community after watching and reading our neighborhood protest for almost six months. It is important to me to write a note that all three groups can read. 

With a little bit discussion with experts and reading, it is easy to come to the conclusion that cell towers provide less exposure to microwaves than cell phones, about 5 to 10 times less, and the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society think there is very little evidence to support the idea that living, working, or going to school near a cell phone tower might increase the risk of cancer or other health problems. 

But these facts are not relevant, my neighbors are afraid, and do not want any additional microwave exposure. In opposition to my neighbor’s fear and concern are the needs of Plymouth Congregational Church. The Church needs the income from the Verizon cell tower to continue its existence and mission. Neither group has communicated with the other effectively.

It appears to me that the tone of protest has become increasingly acrimonious without cause. The fear, acrimony, and misunderstanding can be reduced by meeting and talking. The time to sit on the sidelines has passed. The Pleasant Street neighborhood and the Plymouth Congregational Church need to put their fears aside, talk with one another and work toward a resolution of the respective issues.

The following note will address four issues in more detail. I am going to start with my understanding of the physics and the health issues, “The Science;” then move on to a discussion of “My Neighbors Are Angry and Afraid;” followed by “The Church Is Stuck;” and lastly present “My Position.” 

The Science

My conclusion from the science is that we have little to fear from having a cell phone transmitter in the Church steeple. More importantly, the American Cancer Society also thinks so. There is very little evidence to support the idea that living, working, or going to school near a cell phone tower might increase the risk of cancer or other health problems. 

Although the science and rational thinking are important, the facts on the ground are more often governed by feelings and politics, so let’s talk about the Pleasant Street neighborhood and the Plymouth Congregation Church parish.

My Neighbors Are Angry and Afraid

Again, from my point of view, my friends and neighbors are genuinely frightened of the consequences of the exposure to cell tower radiation. The science and rational approach be dammed, this is an unwanted excess exposure and they are afraid of the consequences. The duration and vigor of the neighborhood protest is a testament to the anger and fear.

The protest has been going on for about six months that I know about, but I was told that it started almost a year ago. The neighbors have communicated in many ways. The Pleasant Street residents have:

  1. Written articles that were printed in the Belmont newspaper about the Church and its intent to host a Verizon cell tower in its steeple.
  2. Written about the Church parish and its clergy and management.
  3. Campaigned within the extended Pleasant Street community to consolidate a common position against the Verizon cell tower.
  4. Posted a Facebook page about the cell tower, church, and potential effects.
  5. Printed and posted a variety of signs, some printed, some individual handiwork.
  6. Written and distributed flyers.

It has been a vigorous, vociferous, extended, and sometimes unkind campaign. Yet to my knowledge there has been no direct contact between the Pleasant Street neighbors and the Plymouth Congregational Church (parishioners, managers, or clergy). Neither have I heard, read, or seen the voice of the church community as an advocate for the Verizon cell tower, but they are continuing to move forward with their effort to obtain cell tower approval.

The Church is Stuck

The other half of the equation is the neighborhood Plymouth Congregational Church parish. I do not know, but I think that the parish is in financial decline. It must use its physical plant to keep itself financially viable. Tithing and additional donations from the parishioners is insufficient to keep it in good financial order. So, it rents space for daycare, education, and social events that apparently is not enough. I was told by a parishioner that the parish was approached by Verizon with a cell tower contract offer that would provide an additional revenue stream for the length of the contract. This extra-parochial revenue may or may not be enough to keep the Church in good order, but it would help. I speculate that the contract with Verizon is probably between $2,000 and $3,000 a month for 12 months for 15 years which amounts to more than $360,000. The money from the contract would be available for any parish expense and would probably solve their cash flow issues.

The Church is stuck. It lives in a community that it wants to serve. It has insufficient resources to take care of the Church plant and the activities of the parish. It is trying to do good work; trying to survive: serve it parish, neighborhood and the Belmont community. It is hunkered down, but continuing to move forward toward its objective.

My Position

My neighbors are important to me. As I get older, it is increasingly important to be surrounded by a community of friends and well-meaning neighbors. My spouse and I are acquainted with everyone in the neighborhood and know many of them well enough to call them friends. But we are not afraid of cell phones or cell towers and find ourselves misaligned with the protest and much of the communication.

To add to our misalignment, we know some of the parishioners and have been neighbors with the Plymouth Congregational Church for 30 years. We know about some of the good works the parish has done over those years and view the church as a good neighbor.

The time has come to state my position. I believe in science and public policy based on scientific facts and rational thinking. I believe in direct communication. I believe in civil (sometimes you have to shout to be heard) and respectful discourse. To be more direct: I think the Church and the Pleasant Street neighborhood should talk to one another. The two groups need to figure out a pathway forward with the cell tower.

Glenn Herosian

We all appreciate your desire to promote a resolution of the dispute in our neighborhood. However, your timely commentary reads more like a well-coached spin from a political consultant hired by the church rather than an appeal from a concerned neighbor. Why would you write this sincere appeal to the local press? 

Your neighbors are understandably fearful of the ill-defined and involuntary Radiofrequency (RF) radiation about to be thrust into our kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms. But we are far from ignorant about Verizon’s plans for its steeple. Rather, we are outraged by the church’s insensitivity to its neighbors and use of its non-profit status to transform a place of worship into a cell phone tower ”business.” Between congregation donations, probable Community Preservation Act funding, and current monthly rents from numerous tenants, the church’s financial needs could be satisfied without creating controversy and discord in its own neighborhood. 

Unfortunately, we continue to see mischief from Verizon as it submits misleading applications and times its actions to avoid public discussion. 

Your treatise on “the Science” mentions the appropriate RF formulas but also echoes the inaccurate mantra of the church that our occasional use of cell phones is more harmful than the continuous exposure from high powered antennas. Your example underestimates the impact of these antennas as well as the actual duration and cumulative effect on those 23 families within the red zone. The one key difference between a cell phone and base station emissions is that we can all turn off our cell phones to limit our exposure. We do not have that option to control the output of a continuously-radiating cluster of antennas hidden less than 100 feet from our childrens’ bedrooms. 

Despite your assurances, parents of children in the neighborhood take a precautionary approach to the radiation emitting from the cell phone antennas much as they would with any other danger to their children. Not one of the church’s congregation lives within the high exposure range of the Plymouth Church’s antennas. 

On January 15, eight of us stood outside the church and politely shared information about the availability of CPA funds and our willingness to work with the church. I do not believe that the church is “stuck,” nor would I generalize without facts about its financial condition. The church has some prominent members who could have guided their congregation toward CPA funding to preserve its building, leaving its other income to support its ministry. Unfortunately, church leaders have demonstrated little interest in CPA funds or restoring harmony in the neighborhood. 

Let’s remember to consider the financial impact on the town. With Belmont financially “stuck’ by the long term funding for a new high school and library, putting the cell tower on town property and receiving Verizon’s monthly cell tower fee would help a far greater number of Belmont citizens than just those attending the church. Cell phone base stations also devalue neighboring property. The combined property devaluation and loss in real estate tax revenue could total millions and hurt the town even more. 

Our group’s position is that the church should continue doing its “good work” and be a place of worship rather than becoming a cell phone business that disregards the legitimate concerns of the families living around it. We understand the “science” of our cell phones, but cannot blindly trust incomplete scientific research distorted by powerful cell phone lobbies. The win-win solution is for the Church to obtain CPA funds and Verizon to locate the antennas in a less-dense residential area to help restore harmony to our neighborhood.

Belmont’s Annual Town Meeting Convenes Tonight at 7 PM

Photo: Town Meeting.
Legislative democracy is back in session tonight as Belmont’s Annual Town Meeting convenes tonight, Monday, May 2 at 7 p.m. in the Belmont High School Auditorium.
The 290 members will spend Monday and Wednesday, May 4, voting on non-budgetary articles on the warrant. All budget and financial articles will be discussed and voted on in the June session.
Tonight, Monday, Town Meeting will tackle Articles 1-7 in the Town Meeting Warrant. They include:
  • Article 1: Reports (there will be no reports this evening.)
  • Article 2: Authorize the Board of Selectmen to represent the town’s legal interests.
  • Article 3: Authorize the town to abandon an existing utility easement along Trapelo Road and Common Street.
  • Article 4: Extend the Demolition Delay Bylaw by one year to allow for the completion of the Historic District Commmision Town-wide survey of historic properties.
  • Article 5: Remove the “sunset” provision from the Residential Property Snow Removal Bylaw.
  • Article 6: Limiting the size and mass of dwellings in the Single Residence C Zoning District. There is discussion that this article could be tabled.
  • Article 7: Individual votes on the eight projects put forward by the Community Preservation Committee. More information on the projects can be found here.

On Wednesday, May 4, the annual meeting will close temporarily to allow for a Special Town Meeting to convene. The Special Town Meeting will have three articles: 

  1. A funding authorization to finance a new $144 million Minuteman Regional Vocational School.
  2. Appropriate $1.75 million, the proceeds from the sale of town owned land off Woodfall Road, to fund initial expenses of the Belmont High School Building Committee.
  3. Transfer $1.3 million from free cash to fund the purchase of six modular classrooms to be used at the Chenery Middle School. 
Jack Weis, Belmont’s Representative to the Minuteman School Committee, has provided a preview of the slides he intends to present under Article 3 of the Special Town Meeting, and is asking Town Meeting Members to look through the new presentation in advance of Wednesday’s meeting in hope of covering the entire presentation in an efficient manner. To permit everyone to receive and view these slides without being constrained by computer power, please follow this link to the slides that are on the Town Clerk’s Town Meeting Information page of the website: 

Comedian Jimmy Tingle in Belmont Saturday Using Humor To Support Good

Photo: Jimmy Tingle, in the flesh.

Humor for Humanity and A Path Appears in Belmont are pleased to announce an opportunity to both give and get and feel good about it as they host comedian/political pundit Jimmy Tingle in his show: “Jimmy Tingle for President/The Funniest Campaign in History” this Saturday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m. at Belmont High School, 221 Concord Ave. 

Tickets are $30 and are available on, or

The New York Times describes Jimmy as; “ More than comic wit.. so cheerfully intelligent he makes his audience optimistic in the face of appalling reality. It takes a serious and well-intentioned man to make one laugh to such good effect.”

Funds raised will support The Belmont Food Pantry, Belmont METCO and the Bristol Lodge which represent the top three issues – hunger, homelessness and education/literacy – identified in the community surveys collected at the A Path Appears in Belmont events last year including the talk with New York Times journalist and Pulitzer Prize Winner Nicholas Kristof. 

When Kristof spoke last April at Belmont High, he shared his research proving when an individual gives to another, it makes them FEEL GOOD, Come enjoy the evening and know that a portion of the cost of your ticket will be going to each of the three organizations listed above. You will not only FEEL GOOD you will laugh like you haven’t laughed before.

Go to for more information and tickets.

Letter To The Editor: Don’t Sacrifice Minuteman Because Of Other Concerns

Photo: The Garden Classroom at the Burbank.

To the editor:

In my capacity as Co-President of the Burbank Elementary Parent Teacher Association, I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with many students from Minuteman Career and Technical High School. Our gorgeous Garden Classroom would not have been possible without the hard work of students in the Minuteman Horticulture program under the guidance of their excellent teachers Sarah Ard and Peter Kelleher. They collaborated with the PTA to help us turn a sunken pit of weeds into an educationally valuable and beautiful part of the student experience at Burbank. This year, they are helping us turn a neglected patch on one of the school paths into a vibrant garden. Our school community owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Minuteman.

The Board of Selectmen decided that it needed to send a message that the proposed new Minuteman High School would be “too big” for the students who attend. They felt that financial impact on the average Belmont tax bill was too much to spend on this “too big” school (estimates of the impact range from $33-$75 per household). This decision ignored the fact that Minuteman was following the MSBA’s guidelines regarding the size of the school (the MSBA will not contribute to a new school building designed for fewer than 600 students). It ignored the fact that this is the last chance for Minuteman to take advantage of a level of funding no longer available through MSBA. And it ignored the fact that the existing school is in need of $100 million of repairs. Guess who would shoulder that cost if a new school is not built? Taxpayers in member towns, and without the assistance of the MSBA.

The Board’s decision also ignored the impact a new school – one that serves the needs of vocational education in the 21st century – would have on enrollment at Minuteman. The Board of Selectmen does not seem to understand the role that vocational education can and should play in serving our community and in serving the towns that share Minuteman with Belmont. A state of the art facility that provides educational opportunities for fields in high demand in today’s economy – biotech, robotics, health care, fiber optics – along with the vocational stalwarts of plumbing, electricity, and automotive, will better attract the students that could most benefit from a hands-on, experience-based education. And a new facility is much more likely to attract new member towns. Staying with the status quo is more likely to lose students and member towns, further increasing the burden on the municipalities that stay.

I am sorry to say that the Warrant Committee also voted against the new Minuteman, but by a close margin. The other member towns have or are likely to support the plan because they know it is the best option. Town Meeting in Belmont overwhelmingly approved remaining in the Minuteman District, and our town has been part of the planning process every step of the way, do we want to be the town that votes against its future? I am well aware of our other capital obligations in town: Belmont High School, the Library, the Police Station, DPW. But we cannot sacrifice Minuteman High because we have these other concerns. They have been working a long time towards this desperately needed solution, and the students that benefit from it deserve much better than being snubbed by our town.

My sister attended a regional technical high school in Connecticut. It enabled her to begin working right away after high school, and she later went on to run her own business. While this model of technical education – one where graduates are employable from day one – is still a part of the vocational experience, many students at Minuteman continue their education in related fields: medicine, biochemistry, landscape architecture, programming, and much more. It’s a model that works, now more than ever, and our town should support it.

Jessie Bennett

Precinct 1

Sold In Belmont: Let Us Now Praise Affordable Homes

Photo: Stairmaster, 1.0

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53 Gilbert Rd., Condo (second floor) in a two-family (1925). Sold: $438,500.

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29 Longmeadow Rd., Large ranch (1958). Sold: $1,075,000.

A weekly recap of residential properties sold in the past seven-plus days in the “Town of Homes”:

29 Longmeadow Rd., Large ranch (1958). Sold: $1,075,000. Listed at $1,099,000. Living area: 3,000 sq.-ft. 7 rooms, 3 bedrooms, 3 baths. On the market: 80 days.

53 Gilbert Rd., Condo (second floor) in a two-family (1925). Sold: $438,500. Listed at $418,000. Living area: 1,221 sq.-ft. 6 rooms, 2 bedrooms, 1 baths. On the market: 59 days.

Let’s praise affordability in Belmont. OK, you’ll need to climb a flight of steps to get to the second-floor condo and that could be problematic if you’re carrying two toddlers and a week’s worth of groceries up a flight of stairs. But this Gilbert Road condo is housing that’s economically feasible for a young, two-wage earning couple seeking their first home. 

Let’s look at the numbers: Five percent down on a 30-year mortgage at four percent along with taxes and PMI is let’s say $1,600 a month. That’s doable for a young family of three – if they get some help with daycare, etc. 

And look what you get (along with a daily aerobic session): a west-facing large living room, working fireplace, a sunroom off the living room and two good sized bedrooms. A nearly century-old built-in cabinet in the dining room. The kitchen is functional with “black and white speckled laminate countertops” with a pantry off the kitchen. The renovated bathroom is from Home Depot, and there is an enclosed back porch which would be called a “three-season alcove” if it was on the Hill. Ok, you have to share the yard as well as the washer and dryer hookup, and you get one car parking. But unless Ted Cruz is downstairs, this is what you have to deal with when you have a limited budget in the “Town of Homes.” And all said it’s not that bad. Now if Belmont could find someone to build 100 more of this sort of housing, we’d be in business of providing quality housing to a wider range of incomes.

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(Of course, if you get that dream job in Tampa, this is what $440,000 gets you in a good community with an excellent school system – well, great by Florida standards.)

The million dollar ranch on Belmont Hill is another home – I’ve counted four this year alone – in which the owner has spent four/five decades in and is now departing. And while this house is a nice size and all, you’d expect more from a seven figure house. An example is the kitchen. I think the Gilbert Road kitchen is warmer and more inviting. It’s all location, location, location. 

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