The site plan approval for a proposed new telecommunications tower at the Church of the Incarnation Catholic Church on Monterrey Road NE was passed on a 4-1 vote from Rio Rancho City Council members.

The cell tower is necessary, according to Les Gutierrez, the agent from Verizon Wireless and Pinnacle Consulting, which is the applicant for the new tower. He says the area needs the tower to improve reception.

“We agree fully with the planning process. We respect residents’ concerns,” he said.

The tower will be camouflaged with a leaves to make it look like a tree so it doesn’t cause an “eyesore,” according to Gutierrez.

While notice was provided to surrounding residents by the city, some have concerns regarding direct impact on health.

Representative Consultant Steve Kennedy explained that the radio frequency emitted will not directly impact residents.

“The tower puts off non-ionizing waves which do not effect human DNA. For example, cellphones, Wi-Fi, TVs and so on do not impact our DNA. However, these waves can create heat. That is the only health impact here,” Kennedy said.

He also explained the Federal Communications Commission has requirements of radio frequency output for humans to withstand and that if companies go against guidelines, it can get expensive.

“The human body can withstand 1.4 watts per centimeter squared, but the FCC lowered that by a factor of 10 for regulations. So that goes down to 0.14 for occupational limits. The general public limit is 50 times lower than 1.4, so there won’t be really any impact. It is very low,” Kennedy said.

He said it is proximity based as well. Using a cellphone as an example, which he says puts off the same non-ionizing waves, he said the output is more when it is closer to you.

“The cellphone is at 50% of the general public limit when it is next to your ear and that gets smaller as it gets farther away from you,” he said.

After this explanation, Carol Vigil, a resident who lives near the proposed site, still expressed concern about the tower devaluing her home.

“People who are not aware of the limits and research studies may not know that this tower is supposedly safe. So they may not want to live there when I sell my home,” Vigil said.

She also stated that the church would not be a good neighbor if it puts the tower on its property, which she says is “basically in her front yard.”

Councilor Daniel Stoddard asked if there is any room for the city to adjust the site plan.

According to City Director of Development Services Amy Rincon, when it comes to regulation, the city is limited by the FCC standards.

“If they meet the requirements, like this one, there is little that we can do,” she said.

She also made it clear that even if the site plan passes approval, it does not guarantee the tower will go there because there are several other approvals that have to take place before that happens.

Councilor Paul Whymer asked if the look of the tower could be changed at all and suggested a cross be used instead for aesthetic purposes.

Gutierrez explained that would block signals.

After further discussion, Gutierrez said their team would put together options for the tower’s look and present it at a later date.