- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

A high-tech company's deal with a historic Fairfax County, Va. church has outraged a group of residents living near the church, which served as a Union Army hospital during the Civil War.
Community Wireless Structures plans to pay Dranesville United Methodist Church $1,500 a month for housing on its property a three-sided, 100-foot cellular communications tower, designed to look like a working bell tower.
CWS revised an original proposal to build a 160-foot monopole with a blinking light at the top after the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors said it was too tall.
Church officials say they need the money and the bell tower, to be built near a cemetery of 40 or 50 crumbling tombstones dating as far back as the Battle of Dranesville in December of 1861, fits nicely into the site.
The Board of Supervisors approved the bell tower proposal last month, but construction can't start until a July 31 hearing in front of the county Board of Zoning Appeals.
Residents opposed to the tower plan hope they can convince public officials at that meeting to reconsider.
"Fairfax County is an historical area," said Kim Fox, one of about 250 residents who have signed a petition against the tower. "If it's this easy for these people to put up a tower here, then next comes cemeteries and historic sites everywhere."
Mrs. Fox said the original church building served as a hospital and horse stable for Union Army troops during the Civil War and the cemetery has Civil War soldiers buried in it. "They're desecrating that history with this cell tower. It makes me feel like there's been a total lack of respect," she said.
But Milburn Sanders, a member of the Fairfax County History Commission, who has lived in northern Fairfax County for more than 70 years and is a member of nearby Falls Church United Methodist Church, said he's offended by the idea that anyone would try to make this a moral issue.
"They are using history as a crutch and I'm thoroughly disgusted with it," he said. "They're using it as a means to reach their goal. What's built in that spot is the business of the church and nobody else."
Fairfax County Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn, Dranesville Republican, who opposed the original 160-foot monopole proposal said, "[The church] is not like it was back in Civil War time. The Board of Supervisors sees many proposals for cellular towers around the county and is after the carriers to be more creative with their design and is one way they've been able to do that."
According to the Fairfax County Zoning and Planning Commission, the county has approved a total of 62 cellular communication towers.
Henry Renaud, a real estate lawyer who has lived adjacent to the church and the cemetery since 1994, said the deal between the church and the high-tech company is a contradiction.
"There's a right way and place to put these things up and there's a wrong way," Mr. Renaud said. "This is pretty obviously a church business gone out of control. Three years ago, it was a little historic church. Then they got grandiose with their expansion plans — it's like they're on steroids or something."
But Timothy P. Craig, the church's pastor, said the church's congregation of about 250 regularly attending members, is expanding and needs to raise money.
"We've taken on over 80 new members over the last year," said Mr. Craig, who became pastor a year ago.
The church was able to pull in $300,000 for selling a portion of land directly behind it that was purchased during the 1980s, he said. The developer who bought the land built three houses on it, but a new sanctuary and additional wing built onto the original church structure in the last two years "cost upwards of $1.6 million to complete."
When the church applied for a loan to fund the expansion, banks required it to find new income, Mr. Craig said.
"There was an original plan for a 160-foot-high monopole with a blinking light on it," he added. "In listening to the community, we revised the plan to have no blinking light. It will now look like a bell tower."
Mr. Mendelsohn and Mr. Craig insist the revised plan has met resistance in the neighborhood not because of its closeness to the cemetery or the church's historic building, but because it is less than 150-feet from one of the houses built by the developer who purchased land from the church.
Zita deSa, whose family lives in that house, said she knew nothing of the bell tower when her family bought the house.
"I'm very concerned for the health of my 4-year-old, 6-year-old and 20-month-old boys. Their brains are developing and they're very curious. There's going to be high voltage and electromagnetic discharge," she said. "We want to be in harmony with the church, but they're just thinking of the money. It's not a bell tower. Call it what it is. It's a cellular tower."

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