2008-08-01 / Front Page

Deal Or No Deal?

Residents Say Synagogue Untruthful About Antennas
By Howard Schwach

In the wake of the March cell antenna controversy that split the West End Temple congregation down the middle, another Rockaway congregation has become similarly embroiled in an attempt to place city-funded cell antennas with homeland security implications on its roof.

A construction crane sits on the street next to Congregation Ohab Zedek on Beach 135 Street. There have been multiple T-Mobile cell antennas (left) on the roof for more than a year, but the installation of city-sponsored cell antennas has caused consternation in the local community. The two new antennas are to be mounted on either side of the synagogue's roof. On Tuesday, synagogue officials said that they put a hold on the installation, but on Wednesday, one of the antennas was put in place. A construction crane sits on the street next to Congregation Ohab Zedek on Beach 135 Street. There have been multiple T-Mobile cell antennas (left) on the roof for more than a year, but the installation of city-sponsored cell antennas has caused consternation in the local community. The two new antennas are to be mounted on either side of the synagogue's roof. On Tuesday, synagogue officials said that they put a hold on the installation, but on Wednesday, one of the antennas was put in place. City officials say the new cell antennas would be used not to access private cell phones, but to allow fire and police officials to move data between command posts and the field in a more expeditious manner.

Congregation Ohab Zedek has contracted with the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) to place the antennas on the roof of the synagogue, at 134-01 Rockaway Beach Boulevard.

Multiple cell phone towers and antennas line the roof of the building, directly over the playground where, on Wednesday afternoon, more than a dozen young children played. Multiple cell phone towers and antennas line the roof of the building, directly over the playground where, on Wednesday afternoon, more than a dozen young children played. DoITT had also contracted for the cell antenna that was to be placed on the roof of the West End Temple, at Beach 147 Street last May.

That deal fell through when neighbors and congregants got together to force the temple to back down.

That does not seem to be the case this time, however.

While a number of neighbors have complained to The Wave about the added cell installation on the roof (there are already a number of T-Mobile antennas in place), there have so far been no complaints from congregants.

Ohab Zedek will reportedly earn $3,800 a month from the antenna installation, although co-president Joel Berkowitz declined to confirm or deny that number.

"What's public is public," he said, "but I won't discuss our business."

On Wednesday, a new cell antenna sits on the eastern side of the building. On Wednesday, a new cell antenna sits on the eastern side of the building. On Monday, a steel beam being placed on the roof by a construction crane on Beach 135 Street dropped its load onto the driveway of the home adjacent to the synagogue, nearly hitting a car that was parked there, reported Greg Reinhardt, the homeowner.

"My kids had been playing in the driveway earlier, and it could have been a real tragedy," he said.

Reinhardt argues that there is no real proof that the cell antennas are safe and that they threaten the entire neighborhood, including PS 114, two blocks north of the synagogue.

"Until they can prove that these are safe so near a school, they should not be building them," he said.

A group of local activists, including Democratic District Leader Lew Simon and Belle Harbor Property Owners Association President Barbara Larkin as well as Reinhardt, met with synagogue officials this week. They reportedly worked out a deal to put the construction on hold for two weeks until a community meeting could be held on August 19 to address their opposition to the plan and to hear a presentation from a representative from Northrop- Grumman, the city's contractor for the system.

The synagogue towers over the house adjacent to it on Beach 135 Street. The homeowner says that tragedy was narrowly averted when a steel beam being placed on the roof fell into his driveway. The synagogue towers over the house adjacent to it on Beach 135 Street. The homeowner says that tragedy was narrowly averted when a steel beam being placed on the roof fell into his driveway. A spokesperson for DoITT, however, said on Wednesday that he has no knowledge of an agreement to put a hold on the construction of the antennas, and that the installation will go forward as planned.

On Tuesday morning, a Wave editor witnessed a discussion between the homeowner and George Farber, the synagogue's other co-president.

A crew from a crane company was present as well, apparently ready to go back to work.

After some phone calls, however, the workers were told by their supervisor to simply take some excess material from the roof and leave for the day.

"They will not turn one screw on the roof," Farber assured Reinhardt's wife.

On Wednesday morning, however, Reinhardt called The Wave to say that workmen were up on the roof, installing the antenna on the eastern side of the roof.

George Farber, a co-president for the synagogue, speaks with workers on Tuesday morning. Although he assured nearby homeowners that "not one screw would be turned," on Wednesday morning, a cell antenna was installed on the eastern side of the roof. George Farber, a co-president for the synagogue, speaks with workers on Tuesday morning. Although he assured nearby homeowners that "not one screw would be turned," on Wednesday morning, a cell antenna was installed on the eastern side of the roof. A visit to the site corroborated the fact that workmen had installed a new antenna overlooking the school's playground.

"The synagogue has to know what they are doing," Reinhardt said. "They apparently lied to the community. I no longer have any reason to believe that they are telling us the truth."

Nicholas Sbordone, a spokesperson for DoITT, told The Wave that the removal of extra material from the roof on Tuesday was work scheduled for that day, and not the result of any deal.

Sbordone said that the new structures are not cell towers but cell antennas, which put out a much lower dosage of power, and which will not be used for access to cell phones, but rather for a new citywide system called "NYCWIN," a broadband system that will allow data to be transferred between first responders and headquarters in an instant.

Sbordone pointed out, for example, that firefighters on the scene would be able to get the building floor plans from headquarters at the same time that headquarters officials will be able to see full-scan video of what is happening on scene.

Police detectives will be able to run fingerprints and mug shots through central computers nearly instantaneously, Sbordone said.

"This system is going to improve the way first responders do their job," he added. "All of the city agencies will be using it to a certain extent. Department of Sanitation officials can use it to track trucks and make sure they are covering their route. The DEP can use it to do automated water meter reading; it has many uses."

A spokesperson for Northrop-Grumman said that the wireless network will create an invisible infrastructure that makes network data, voice and video accessible in places where wires cannot go. The implications for first responders and homeland security infrastructures are clear—especially when your wireless solutions can be mobile and secure."

And, while the city agency seems not to know about the three-week hold, Berkowitz said that the contractors were notified to stop work.

"The city has nothing to do with the hold, it's between us and the contractor."

Berkowitz said that the city came to the synagogue and said that the cell antennas were necessary for homeland security, and they agreed to allow their placement on the roof.

He said that the synagogue plans to move ahead with the installation after the August 19 meeting.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, Berkowitz said that he knew nothing of the installation that was done that day.

"I can't tell you anything at all about that," he said. "All I know is that we told [the contractor] to stop work."

The August 19 community meeting may well be moot because it appears that the entire cell antenna unit will be installed by that time.

"I try to be a good corporate neighbor, but this is not the way an institution should treat its neighbors," Reinhardt said. "I no longer have confidence in what the synagogue's officials tell me."

"This is a homeland security issue, Sbordone said. "[The new antenna] is important to the city and important to the community."

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