Opinion

Cell coverage, cheap burgers -- what's next?

Portrait of an Evolving Community, Part One:

Ten years ago, it was, that a cellular phone outfit came before our local park board, seeking permission to put antennas atop the water tower at Battle Point Park. A hearing was duly convened; park commissioners and the lay public raised concerns over aesthetics, electromagnetic fields and, as memory serves, the commercialization of public lands. There was also some confusion about whether the proposal was for an antenna or a standalone tower. (The project was roughly concurrent with several companies’ plans for towers elsewhere on the island, one of which eventually went up on Grow Avenue.)

It was the second time in two years for the water tower antenna proposal; and, for the second time, the park board said “no thanks” and hung up the phone.

A decade later, and Cingular Wireless (as reported on page A2) now breezes to easy park board approval of precisely the same project. Aesthetics? “How could the tower get any uglier than it is now?” is the new sentiment. And when a public hearing was held, neither hue nor cry was heard; about the only comment came from a neighbor who urged park officials to wring as much money out of the applicant as possible.

Are our community values changing, or are we becoming less shocked and threatened by change itself? A little of both, perhaps. Plans to upgrade the island’s power grid were also once opposed on the grounds that EMFs would irradiate the hapless community below; a humble cellular antenna, we seem to have decided, is benign enough.

The antenna plan’s success is tied more directly, we suspect, to the general ubiquity of cell phones. Time was when a mobile phone was pretty exotic, the general province of the financially and technologically ostentatious (in the

colloquial, “snobs”). These days, everybody has one, and the facilities that support them are accepted in turn.

So dial up, Cingular Wireless customers, and celebrate your soon-to-be-better coverage – but not while you’re behind the wheel, please, or at the next restaurant table. That, we still refuse to accept.

Portrait of an Evolving Community, Part 2:

Work is also under way on building design standards that could spell the demise of the city’s longstanding restrictions on “formula take-out restaurants.” Legally suspect but never ruled on, the ordinance cost the city big dollars to settle with a Papa Murphy’s proprietor spurned at the bridge.

The new thinking – aimed at aesthetics, not menus – would ban free-standing buildings that are themselves big advertisements, but would permit chain eateries in buildings shared with a “non-formula” business.

Proponent Norm Wooldridge admits there are a few kinks to be worked out – realty offices and banks, for instance, could be inadvertantly proscribed – and he wants more public input. But the approach is promising.

For the record, the Review’s editorial desk is a fan of the fine and decidedly non-generic burgers at several of our local eateries. And we’re not sure the potentially free market for fast-food vendors is driven so much by local consumer sentiment as it is by legal prudence.

But if we must, we must. Our vote is for a Wendy’s.

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