Appeal in church mast plan

An artist's impression of the proposed cell mast at the AGS Church in Vergesig.

A consulting company has appealed a decision by the Municipal Planning Tribunal, which rejected its application to erect a cell tower at a Durbanville church.

The original application by the AGS Church, in St John’s Road, Vergesig, to let Highwave Consultants build the 25m-high tower, was supported by the City’s town planner but then rejected by the tribunal on Tuesday April 11 (“Tribunal rejects cell mast application”, Northern News, May 4) because it would have been on the crest of a rise and posed too much of a negative visual impact.

Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said at the time that the applicant had also not motivated its choice of site, offered alternatives or adequately shown how the proposed mast would be blended into the landscape, all of which was required in terms of the City’s policy on telecommunications mast infrastructure.

In its appeal, Highwave Consultants said an August 2016 memorandum had made a compelling argument for the mast and suggested alternatives.

Highwave said there was a growing need for denser cell tower distribution to meet the demand of more smart devices and it was prepared to put up a 20m mast disguised as a tree instead of the standard 25m monopole design.

However, engineer and Vergesig resident, Anton Esterhuizen, is not convinced.

He said he did not see the “need” for the tower, as there were already two within a 2.3km radius of the proposed site.

“How can they say there is a need for the tower when we have two servicing this area and have no problems with dropped calls?” he said, adding that fibre-optic cables would be rolled out in the area next month.

Mr Esterhuizen said the area – which had reached capacity, with no new businesses or homes planned – was also being serviced by the commercial tower at the Ipic Centre.

The City received 49 comments on the appeal before the period for public input closed on Monday May 29.

Mr Herron said town planners would go through all the comments received and submit a report to the Mayor’s Advisory Panel.

In November last year, residents claimed the mast would hurt property values, make it harder to sell their homes, ruin the area’s rural feel and possibly even harm their health (“Residents say no to tower”, Northern News, November 10 2016). Residents also complained that they had not been properly consulted.

But church spokesman Cyril Rosalt had argued that there was no conclusive evidence that cell tower radiation harmed humans.

Asked about Highwave’s appeal, Mr Rosalt said the decision-making process was between the consultants and the City, and the church was not involved in it.

“They approached the church a year ago, and we agreed on the basis that they would be responsible for getting the necessary approvals,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Vergesig-Aurora Residents’ Association wrote to City manager Achmat Ebrahim claiming Highwave had lied to the town planner.

The letter to Mr Ebrahim read: “To our knowledge, for the mast and base station to be approved, Highwave Consultants had to specify that they had approached two other sites and that they were turned away by them first. The one Erf 8304,
6 Die Anker was never approached by the applicant. The town planner was obviously unaware that she had been given false information and relied on what the applicant supplied to her. We have supplied a sworn affidavit to the manager from this land owner stating that he was not approached by the applicant.”

Mr Herron said this allegation was being investigated.

In her comment about the appeal, resident Verne Jankielsohn challenged the applicant’s statement that “positive support was received from both the owner of the property as well as all internal support – it was supported to such an effect that a positive recommendation was provided by the City of Cape Town”.

Ms Jankielsohn noted: “The church and applicant obviously support this as they stand to financially empower themselves to the financial detriment of the residents.” Ms Jankielsohn said most of the residents who were aware of the applicant’s proposal were not in favour of the mast and base station.

“The council received a substantial amount of objection letters last year. A petition was done in the immediate area against this mast and base station leading up to the Municipal Planning Tribunal hearing. In less than six days, 202 residents signed this petition,” she said.

Responding to our questions, including a request for a response to the allegation that Highwave had lied in its application, Pieter Pretorius of Highwave Consultants said: “As previously mentioned, please note that all information can be obtained from the local authority offices dealing with this matter.”