Beliefnet
The Deacon's Bench

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this oddity, from St. Louis, but it’s certainly, um, different:

Residents along Milton Road could be saved from the view of a hulking cell phone tower if one company has its way. Saved, that is, by a giant cross.

Creve Coeur-based CIS Communications has put forth a proposal to conceal a cell phone tower for U.S. Cellular inside a 95-foot cross to be built on land owned by the Way of Faith Christian Center. Church members have agreed to lease space on church property as long as the tower is designed as a simple Christian icon instead of a metal tangle of bars and wires.

The deal requires the approval of the Alton City Council, which is expected to vote on the matter tonight.

“It’s really a way for U.S. Cellular to have an avenue to provide their coverage and it’s also a way for the city and the residents to something preferable to a giant unpleasant traditional tower,” said William Jenkins, who handles project development for CIS. “Any time you can construct a tower that doesn’t really look like a tower, it’s usually preferable.”

CIS has been finding homes for cell phone towers for some 12 years now as companies such as U.S. Cellular continue to expand their networks. CIS has done the site selection for hundreds of towers in several states, including Illinois and Missouri.

But as more cell phone towers have sprung up, complaints have rolled in. The old towers are big and ugly, often gray or sometimes brackish red and white. Not exactly a pleasant feature on any horizon.

So CIS and similar companies have hid a good number of cell transmitters in the rooftops of tall buildings or in the steeples of churches. Still, with more and more demand for cell service, the list of available lofty structures is shrinking.

Hence the new trend of “stealth tower” projects, Jenkins said. Cell towers can be hidden conveniently in flag poles or even fake trees.

“It makes it look a little more attractive than just a big old wire structure,” said Mark Hackworth, chairman of Alton’s Plan Commission, which has recommended approving the new cross-tower. “We’ve had others in parks. In one, there’s actually a fake pine tree. And unless you know exactly where it is, you can’t find it.”

Officials also say the cross isn’t causing too much of a stir. Only two residents came forward with concerns at a commission hearing earlier this month.

The church is very supportive.

Alton’s development director, Phil Roggio, noted that flagpole towers are planned for the cemetery at the Elijah Lovejoy monument.

The tower also won’t be the first giant cross in the area. A similar 100-foot cell tower is under construction in Hazelwood. Those farther outside the St. Louis area are probably familiar with the 111-foot cross near Alto Pass in deep Southern Illinois or the giant cross monument in Effingham that stands roughly 200 feet tall.

And though the City Council must approve a special use permit for the tower, the city’s attorney has indicated that the location of the tower, not the shape, is the city’s legal concern.

“As far as I understand it, (the city’s) stance is that it’s not really a tie in between church and state,” Jenkins said. “Whether it’s disguised as a cross, it’s my understanding that they don’t have a say in the matter.”

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