Canton Twp. residents disconnect cellphone tower plans

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Canton Township — After a long, controversial debate, plans for a 120-foot cellphone tower on the grounds of a local church have been dropped.

Abundant Life Church has axed its deal with Verizon Wireless to erect the tower on church property, said Canton Township supervisor Phil LaJoy.

“I received a written letter from the pastor Dan Smitherman stating that they will not lease their land to Verizon,” LaJoy said Friday. “So far there are no plans to build a cellphone tower in this area.”

Verizon planned to construct the tower behind Abundant Life to help expand coverage between Palmer and Hannan, but the pastor reconsidered after nearby residents rallied against the project last week.

Smitherman said after much thought, prayer and counsel, he decided to back out of the deal. “When Verizon approached us, we thought it would be a way to bring more funds into the church to help with the programs we put on throughout the community,” he said. “I soon realized it wasn’t worth damaging the relationship with a neighborhood and city that supports us.”

“We are committed to providing a high-quality network that meets our customers’ growing demands. A new tower is needed to continue to provide reliable service to our customers, including public safety service providers,” Verizon spokesman Trevor Thomas said. “We work with local jurisdictions to ensure all applicable federal, state and local regulations are followed. For this project, we continue to work diligently to locate a viable location that would meet the needs of our customers and the community.”

If the deal had gone through, the cellphone company would have paid the church $1,000 a month for using its land. Abundant Life’s property is on the west side of Hannan south of Palmer, just west of the Westland city line.

Roger and Nancy Lemkie, who live in viewing distance of the proposed tower site, said they objected to a structure they thought would detract from the character and history of a neighborhood, where generations of family members have lived.

“Our family grew up in Canton and my grandfather built four houses in this area. I wasn’t willing to give that up if they decided to build the tower,” Nancy Lemkie said. “We are just really happy that the pastor decided to listen to the concerns of the residents.”

While some residents were concerned the tower would be an eyesore, others such as Jim Rubasky were worried about endangering the environment.

“We have a lot of wetlands and wildlife in this area and it’s up to us to protect the land,” said Rubasky, president of the Westland Homeowners Committee. “It’s good to know that the power of the people was understood and heard, and hopefully things will move in a positive manner.”

Other churches also are facing controversy over the use of church property.

Residents who live near Word of Faith International Christian Center in Southfield are fighting plans to allow the drilling of an exploratory oil well on church property.

The state Department of Environmental Quality plans a public meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 17 at Southfield High School on Jordan Development’s request for a drilling permit.

This is the second time Verizon’s attempt to build a cellphone tower in Canton Township has been turned down. In July, officials rejected a proposal to build a tower on another site southwest of Hannan and Palmer.

Phyllis Johnson, who owns property down the street from Abundant Life, hopes this is the last the neighborhood will hear from the cellphone company.

“I hope Verizon can now recognize that this is a really important district. We are a part of the lower Rouge and we are home to a lot plant and wildlife,” Johnson said. “I’m just really happy the church put the people of the neighborhood first.”

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