Saanich church members reject cell tower proposal

Residents' protest helps sway voters on cell tower issue

Cadboro Bay United Church’s congregation has rejected a proposal to install a Telus cellphone antenna on church property.

About 30 local residents protested at the church on Sunday with signs and slogans, trying to convince congregation members to vote against the idea.

In the end, the church parish did just that. Church council chair Bill Fosdick said the question was put to the congregation after Sunday services and a vote held. The two-thirds majority needed to continue talks with Telus was not quite achieved.

“So we said, ‘That’s as far as it goes,'” Fosdick said. “That was enough to give us a clear indication that we would not advance the discussions.”

Protester Tony Martin called the decision “fantastic.”

Among the group’s primary concerns was that only neighbours who were part of the congregation had input on whether the antenna would be allowed in the neighbourhood.

“They’re not living in the vicinity of the proposed cell tower,” Martin said. “We weren’t included, but we were the ones who would be put at risk, or any potential risk.”

The device would have been installed inside a new bell tower on the church. A church news release stated it had the technical approval from various governing bodies.

Martin said he understands the desire for better cell service, as he lives in a dead area, but doesn’t think the potential health effects of living near a cellular antenna are worth the risk.

“There’s enough research out there to suggest there’s a risk. We’re all saying we’re not scientists … but any risk is too big a risk for my kids.”

Fosdick, who would not reveal his own vote, said the lack of support seemed to come from an economic viewpoint, consideration of the larger community and questions around fitting in the modern technology with the look and values of the church.

“We had people on both sides of the topic calling and emailing,” he said.

The Township of Langley recently approved a policy requiring would-be builders of cell phone towers to survey people with a 500-metre radius of its proposed location. Langley plans to reject any proposal receiving less than 80 per cent approval from residents, when the project goes to Industry Canada.

Martin would like to see Victoria municipalities such as Saanich adopt similar policies to make sure residents’ concerns are heard. “Once there’s kids involved you’ve really got to stand up, and that’s what our neighbours did.”

– with files from Kyle Slavin and Dan Ferguson.

kwells@goldstreamgazette.com