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Cross latest attempt at stealth cellphone towers


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- One might be hidden in a cross on a church lawn. Others are disguised as a cactus in the desert, a silo in farm country or a palm tree reaching into a sunny sky.

Whatever the deception, the goal is the same: concealing the tall, slender cellphone towers that most Americans need but few want to see erected in their neighborhoods.

As telecommunications companies fill gaps in their networks, many have sought to camouflage the ungainly outdoor equipment that carries the nation's daily supply of calls, texts and data. It's another indication of how the industry is evolving to meet the demands of consumers who insist on ever-increasing amounts of wireless information but won't tolerate large antennas looming over their homes, parks and other beloved sites.

"Each community and each neighborhood can be different, so we really have to work on a case-by-case basis with each city and with each zoning authority," said Karen Smith, a spokeswoman for Verizon.

So-called stealth cellphone towers have been around for more than two decades and appear to be growing in popularity. They have been concealed in a wide variety of ways, including in a stop sign in New Orleans, a pine tree in Kinnelon, New Jersey, and a water tower in San Dimas, California.

Now an Iowa church wants to join the club by building a tower in the shape of a cross. It's a move that's irked some nearby residents who think the design will be too big and too out of place. It also shows how sensitive the issue can still be.

The First Presbyterian Church in Des Moines is working with Verizon to construct a tower that will be dressed up as an 11-story cross. The deal, which is being reviewed by a city zoning board, includes annual compensation to the church.

"Like a lot of churches, we have to keep each year finding ways to pay our bills," pastor Ken Stubert said. "It's an unusual church that doesn't have to worry about something like that."

Suzette Jensen said the tower's height and color wouldn't match the church's exterior, making it an instant eyesore. The pastor said that would not happen.

"We pay some pretty high property taxes. We feel very strongly that it's going to be a detriment to the value of our homes," she said, adding that neighbors are considering legal action.

Scenic America, a nonprofit that works to preserve scenery along the nation's roads, has generally opposed the building of more communication towers, but the group has been more amenable to disguised designs.

"We've been in favor of disguising them if you can and you can do it well," said spokesman Max Ashburn. But even some of the disguised towers are dead giveaways.

"You can tell right away that they're not what they pretend to be," Ashburn said. "Sometimes the attempt to cover them up actually makes it stand out more than if they just put up the tower."

When Verizon first contacted the church last year, the company proposed standard designs for the tower. The church ultimately pushed for the cross-shaped design, which mirrors a tower outside a church in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie.

STEALTH Concealment Solutions Inc., a South Carolina-based company that offers hidden antennas and towers, has created dozens of multi-tasking steeples and crosses over the years.

In 1992, a BP sign at a gas station in Atlanta earned the distinction of being the first stealth cellphone tower in the country, according to the company. Designs have expanded over the years and now include a quirky pole in Liberty, Michigan, that looks like a pencil.

Cindy Wishart, a STEALTH spokeswoman, said the company is constantly educating people about the industry and its possibilities.

"They always associate concealment as a tree," she said. "It's just so much more than that."

Specific data on the number of stealth towers is limited, but STEALTH said it works on up to 800 projects a year. The Wireless Association, an industry trade group also known at CTIA, said the presence of towers in general around the country has dramatically increased over the years in an effort to expand coverage.

At the end of 1997, the country had just over 50,000 cell towers. By the end of 2012, the most recent year for which information is available, that number had jumped to more than 300,000.

Stubert said he was surprised by the community backlash.

"It's ridiculous," he said. "Churches put up crosses all the time that are simply crosses. This will be a cross that's also helping us to pay our bills."

Jensen said the tower should be put in another location because space outside the church is too small. In Des Moines, a minimum 10-acre lot is needed for a communication tower. The church has just over three acres.

Smith, of Verizon, would not go into detail about the tower, although she did say the company chooses locations that fit within a geographic radius and meet engineering specifications.

People constantly need more data "to do all the different multimedia applications that are now part of their lives," Smith said, creating continual pressure to "add more capacity to our network to stay ahead of that demand."

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
chas and dot June 15 2014 at 11:46 AM

Ah A.O.L. Obama lied and said Iraq was a peaceful nation a year ago is back in war, The United States is sending the Navy to the Area. The IRS lost the Emails, Obama releases terrorist 5 for 1 so called hero but I think is a traitor! United states citizens are being spied on, Millions of children and their parents from south of or border are entering this nation to be cared for by taxpayers.and the list goes on and AOL Tells how bad the cell phones companies are for trying to hide their towers.

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23 replies
jjrb1990 June 15 2014 at 12:15 PM

Jeez. People always find a reason to complain. We need cell towers, you know, for the phones that most cant seems to live without, for even a few minutes. So they try and make them a little less of an eye sore, and you guessed it...more complaints. Probably the same type of folks that would complain if you hung them with an old rope.

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5 replies
wabmi June 15 2014 at 12:52 PM

Obama is a Muslim is the reason he released the 5 terrorist with out following the law he signed and the reason he is set to destroy America.

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11 replies
Debbie June 15 2014 at 12:44 PM

I don't see anything wrong with them using the cross...It shows up for the ones who want to see a cross put on places and also maybe it might just bring soothing comfort to the ones who are christians...like me.

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2 replies
onionson Debbie June 15 2014 at 1:44 PM

Yes, after thinking about it I'm not bothered either.

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Jim Dawson Debbie June 15 2014 at 6:23 PM

But before you know it the ACLU and the atheists will want them replaced

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2 replies
pwafairer Jim Dawson June 16 2014 at 12:07 AM

well said Jim...

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jimd8575 Jim Dawson June 16 2014 at 12:19 AM

You can put the cross anywhere you want, just not on PUBLIC property, is that a problem for you???

Flag +1 rate up
mre2844236 June 15 2014 at 11:43 AM

You want the cell phones then the consequences have to be paid somehow. If they aren't there to provide the service then the idiots that are constantly playing with those *&%# phones texting and talking won't have a thing to do with their hands let alone their brains.

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3 replies
Wazzzup? June 15 2014 at 1:18 PM

Good for the church...smart way to raise some cash.

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1 reply
kingofswords72 Wazzzup? June 15 2014 at 4:37 PM

"smart way to raise some cash"

Churches are not supposed to be like a business. They are supposed to be a place where people can connect spiritually with whatever they deem their creator. If a church NEEDS to put up a cell phone tower in order to pay their bills they are doing something wrong either in the spiritual sector or misuse of funds in the financial sector. If a church isn't giving it's members what they need and there aren't enough funds to cover expenses then the church should close it's doors. On the other hand if they are giving their members what they need and still can't pay their bills then they need to make a change in who is running the finances.

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7 replies
belldn3 June 15 2014 at 11:44 AM

They shouldn't be using the cross.

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11 replies
koochmn June 15 2014 at 1:03 PM

There aqre Palm Tree cell towers near my moms home in Phoenix--- you cant tell them from real tress til you look close, and the church makes big bucks for allowing it on their property--- no complaints from anyone

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3 replies
coilrubbinm4mfun June 15 2014 at 12:09 PM

cell phone towers pay big money to use your land the church is not stupid there making money so hey ..its all good ALL churches are clearly Nothing more than a business that Dont have to pay Taxes period ...

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2 replies
JRivers coilrubbinm4mfun June 15 2014 at 1:07 PM

Did you ever consider that the money from the cell company allows the church to do more to help those in the community?

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3 replies
Joebudgie coilrubbinm4mfun June 15 2014 at 6:05 PM

Sounds like you haven't been to a church in awhile if ever. Are you a believer?

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1 reply
ffishb Joebudgie June 15 2014 at 6:18 PM

What does going to church have to do with being a believer? Nothing, thats what, NOTHING

Flag +2 rate up
Emily June 15 2014 at 12:33 PM

Beautiful plan.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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