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Residents Try To Stop Construction of Madison Pole

More than 200 residents sign petitions, but It's unclear what effect they will have on the tower's construction

When John Aidonis put his Flint Hill Road home on the market a few months ago, he found few interested buyers.

When one of them came to talk about an offer, Aidonis walked the man and his family around the neighborhood, down the street to Flint Hill Elementary School, and finally, back toward where his property abuts Madison High School.

On the last leg of that afternoon walk, the family saw a sign about the proposed cell tower at Madison High School. Aidonis told him about what he had heard.

"He said, 'I can't have that in my backyard,'" Aidonis said. "He packed up his kids and they drove away. I haven't been able to sell my home."

Decreased property values are one of the concerns that's prompted Aidonis and his neighbors to take action against the cell tower planned on Madison High School's football field. Several of them say they feel marginalized by officials, and have throughout the process. They never received notice about the tower, they say, or the public hearing.

"Papers never showed up at my door," said Belinda Strain, a neighbor of Aidonis'. "I never heard about a meeting or saw a sign stating that there was one either."

Lee Ann Pender, director of facilities and transportation services for Fairfax County Public Schools, said a community meeting was held mid-July at Madison High School.  A public meeting was held at the Fairfax County Planning Commission meeting Sept. 30.

Robyn Riebling, a neighbor of Aidonis, said 86 different residents sent e-mails to the commission before they approved the tower, asking them to reconsider or hold another meeting.

"They approved it anyway," Riebling said.

"What good is it if we send our concerns, but nobody listens?" Strain said.

At the Madison tower's  public hearing, Frank de la fe said he received a "tremendous number of e-mails" about the tower, though almost all of them were related to health issues. Federal law prevents municipalities from considering health in approving the application of cell tower. The Federal Communications Commission has set guideline for radio frequency emitted by the towers, and what's emitted from the proposed tower would be well below that.

"We have cell towers at a number of high schools, and I think this is an appropriate place to have a cell tower," he said, before motioning for the commission to approve it.

While most of Milestone Communications' attempts to put towers on Fairfax County School Property have been successful, some have been stopped by parent and resident resistance—a precedent Aidonis hope will help his own neighborhood's fight to appeal the approval of the Madison tower, and to stop the approval of the Thoreau tower scheduled for tonight.

Last month, Falls Church parents, many organized under the group Protect Schools,  arrived angry to a community meeting with Len Forkas, president and founder of Milestone Communications, as he talked about his proposal for a tower at Longfellow Middle School. The McLean Ear reported Forkas withdrew his application a few days later, after losing support of Principal Carole Kihm.

Only the owner of the property on which the cell tower will be built can appeal a Planning Commission decision, said county spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald. In this case, that would be Fairfax County Public Schools. They would have had to appeal the decision within 10 days of its approval.

The Board of Supervisors can also review any planning commission decision when it comes before the board as an information item.When the item came before the board at its meeting Oct. 19, board members declined discussion or comment.

Aidonis said he sent a petition with 75 signatures via mail to Supervisor Cathy Hudgins on Monday morning. On Monday, Aidonis stood outside the Patrick Henry Library with signs and a petition, stopping Vienna residents as they checked out or returned their books. Many of those who stopped hadn't heard about the tower.

"I've never heard of this; I hadn't seen it advertised," said one woman, who has children in the school.

Just before 5 p.m. Monday, Aidonis had 100 more signatures he intended to send to the commission. On Tuesday, he collected more outside of the Oakton Library.

He hopes the petition makes people aware of the issue, and may inspire some parents to create a greater resistance against the Thoreau tower set for approval tonight. Most of all, Aidonis hoped his charge against the tower is an example to the students in the schools affected by this tower—including 8-year-old Victor Marquina, a student at Flint Hill Elementary School, who has helped Aidonis create signs and hold them as he collects signatures.

"I'm a citizen, and I have a voice. I have rights too," Aidonis said. "I hope the children see that this is how change can be done."

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