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Fighting the inevitable, residents in several Central Florida communities are picketing, writing letters and packing local government public hearings to protest a wave of construction applications from the nation’s wireless telecommunications providers.

The proposed towers are 120 feet to 210 feet tall and resemble flagpoles which the carriers argue are unobtrusive and no detriment to quality of life, health or property values. Some of the projects are being proposed for unlikely but logical locations.

For example, Verizon Wireless wants to build a 120-foot stealth cell tower in city-owned Pineywood Cemetery in Winter Park, an affluent Orlando suburb. Verizon is willing to pay $18,000 a year rent for the site but the city is still considering the offer.

In Lake County, Nextel is battling residents who oppose a planned 180-foot tower on property owned by the Danny Len Buick-Pontiac GMC Trucks Inc., off busy U.S. 441 and Old Mount Dora Road in Mount Dora. County officials have scheduled a Sept. 6 public hearing on the issue. In Florida alone, Nextel handles 50 million wireless calls per week.

Hilly Lake County, about 30 miles from Downtown Orlando, already sports 120 cellular towers, according to Bruce Thorburn, the county’s communications system director and vice chair of the state’s Wireless 911 Board. Florida has about 12 milion land-line phones and five million wireless phones.

In Volusia County, DeBary city officials have rejected a 210-foot tower plan from BellSouth Mobility. AT&T Wireless withdrew its application to build a tower on Audubon Park Elementary School land in the same city, about 40 miles from Downtown Orlando.

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