Report On the National Antenna Tower Policy Review

Section D — The Six Policy Questions

Question  6. What evidence exists that property values are impacted by the placement of antenna towers?

Policy Question 6, about the impact of antenna towers on property values, was not one of the original questions posed by the Honourable Allan Rock for the National Antenna Tower Policy Review. It was added by the chairperson of the Advisory Committee and author of this report, Professor David A. Townsend. This was done so that consultations conducted for the review would uncover any useful data on this issue. The Question was cast so as not to lead the respondents. It did not presuppose the existence of such evidence or that any evidence provided would support the case that property values tend to go up or down upon the establishment of an antenna tower. The opinions and evidence submitted by those who participated in this national policy review covered all three options: No, there is no evidence that antenna tower impact upon property values, Yes, there is evidence that property values go up and Yes, there is evidence that property values go down.

This section of the final report will begin by discussing the opinions submitted by those who participated in the policy review and then it will discuss evidence tendered by respondents and gathered through other research. The section will conclude by offering a recommendation about how public concerns and evidence related to negative impact (should such exist) be treated within the context of local consultations on the siting of particular antenna installations.

A.Opinions and Evidence Offered by Participants to Policy Review

To those members of the public and community groups who participated in the online Discussion Forum (operated as part of this policy review) the issues of the potential for negative impact upon property values and the potential for negative health effects were their greatest concerns related to antenna installations.Footnote 319 Some of the formal submissions filed by municipalities expressed the view that these two concerns dominate the interactions they have with the public when an antenna siting becomes contentious.Footnote 320 One contributor to the Discussion Forum, who self-identified as a member of the general public, stated that if evidence of negative impact is found, the antenna proponent should offer compensatory payments to the property owners located next to the antenna installation.

The vast majority of the written submissions filed on behalf of members of the radio industry held the view that there is no credible evidence that the establishment of an antenna installation negatively impacts upon local property values. Some industry members claimed that they had been maintaining an active watch for such evidence for a considerable period of time.Footnote 321 A few of the submissions expressed the view that it was unfair to single out antenna towers when other urban infrastructure may affect property values.Footnote 322 Within its submission, Rogers Communications suggested that the loss of property value argument is often made as a negotiating ploy.Footnote 323

Within the Discussion Forum and through their formal submissions, amateur radio users expressed the view that no reputable studies show that amateur antenna towers have a negative impact upon the property values of their neighbours.Footnote 324 Many complained that it was discriminatory to prevent the establishment of an amateur tower on such grounds when their neighbours were siting things such as boats and travel trailers on their properties.Footnote 325 Within attachments to its formal submission, the Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) offered references to various property assessments that the RAC have relied upon for proof that property values are not impacted by the establishment of amateur antenna installations. One such reference was to an Ontario superior court decision where an interlocutory injunction was denied to the neighbours of a radio amateur who were seeking to prevent the amateur from establishing an antenna tower on his own property.Footnote 326 One of the grounds advanced by the neighbours was negative impact upon their property values. As evidence the neighbours provided a sworn affidavit from a real estate agent supporting their claim. In reply, the radio amateur filed an affidavit from an accredited land appraiser who offered the opinion that the value of the neighbouring lands would not be impacted. The judge found the appraiser's evidence to be persuasive and credible and dismissed the application for an injunction. The RAC also attached quotations from two studies done in the U.S.A. that concluded that land values were not impacted by antenna installations.Footnote 327 One study examined for impact through property value assessments and the other looked at market transactions (home sales) of properties located near a commercial antenna tower.

B. Discussion of the Opinions and Evidence

On the Question of negative impact upon property values, it is clear that individual members of the public are relying upon their intuitive sense of 'disamenity.'Footnote 328 To them, if a structure appears imposing and unattractive or blocks scenic viewscapes, then it must have a negative impact on local property values. Land-use planners believe that the public's intuitive sense of disamenity will be reduced to the extent that camouflaging, screening and landscaping techniques are used to make the antenna less obtrusive and the installation is sited as sensitively as possible in the circumstances. It is submitted that the public's sense of disamenity in relation to a particular antenna proposal also may be reduced when the community is consulted and participates in a meaningful way in the siting decision.

Of course, concerns about negative health effects influence concerns about negative impacts upon local property values. Whether or not citizens truly have concerns for the health of their own family and friends, they are worried that the market value of their property may be inversely related to the general perceptions of negative health effects held by the public. Thus, as public concern increases, the market for their property will decrease and the (fewer) willing buyers who are interested in their property will expect to pay less. Generally, this is known as one form of stigmatic effect.Footnote 329 Public concerns or fears (particularly of health effects such as cancer) can have a negative effect on property values, even when those fears are found to be unwarranted. However, according to Jaconetty (1996), "public fear can and will affect market transactions [only] so long as market participants actually share those fears."Footnote 330 A considerable amount of research has been done on the stigmatic effect associated with electrical transmission lines, contaminated lands and incinerators and their impact upon local property values.Footnote 331

The evidence submitted within the attachments forwarded by the RAC was useful but it is respectfully submitted that its probity value is low. For example, the judge in the Page et. al v. Mangaroo case was merely comparing the respective evidence submitted by the applicant and the respondent and the examination of evidence during an application for an interlocutory injunction is not thorough enough to regard the result of the case as a meaningful endorsement of the evidence supplied by the certified appraiser. Also, the study that examined and compared the real property assessments of residential lands located proximately to a radio amateur living in New YorkFootnote 332 was not compelling because no neighbours had ever raised concerns to the assessment office about the amateur's antenna installations. The issue of the presence of the antennas had never been addressed.

C. Antenna Towers and Property Assessment Value

To the extent that it is possible, residential property value assessments are based upon the market value of the land being assessed. This ensures the most consistency between appraisals and that properties are not assessed at values beyond their worth.Footnote 333 Generally, five methods are used to determine the market value of land:

...a recent free sale of the property; recent free sales of identical properties in the same neighbourhood and market; recent free sales of comparative properties (the comparative sales method); the price which the revenue-producing possibilities of the property will command (the income-capitalization technique); and finally, the depreciated replacement cost method.Footnote 334

Also, intangible factors such as the reluctance of potential buyers to purchase lands that were contaminated but subsequently reclaimed through remediation activities are considered.Footnote 335

There are at least two instances in Canada where the assessed value of residential properties were reduced due to close proximity to commercial antenna towers. In Red Deer, Alberta, a three percent downward adjustment was made recently to the assessments of eight residential properties that back directly onto a microwave tower site. The justification for the reduction was the impact of the tower upon the aesthetics of the neighbouring lands.Footnote 336

In 2001, the assessed values of sixteen residential properties located in Colwood, British Columbia were reduced by BC Assessment by an average of 7.2% (approx. $9,500 each) due to the aesthetic impacts of a broadcasting antenna tower installation that had been recently upgraded.Footnote 337

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D. Evidence of Antenna Towers' Impact upon House Sales Transactions

The most reliable evidence of the value of land is its market value as determined by the price that a willing purchaser is willing to pay to a willing vendor in a free market. Some research completed recently in New Zealand has used actual sales transaction data to attempt to determine whether market price was negatively impacted by the presence of cellular base stations. Dr. Sandy Bond of the Department of Property at the University of Auckland, in collaboration with colleagues Karen Beamish (2004)Footnote 338 and Ko-Kang Wang (2004),Footnote 339 has conducted two parallel studies about the effects of cell tower placement on local property values. As the principal research activity, case studies were performed in four suburbs of Christchurch, New Zealand where a cellular base station had been established. Survey data was collected on people's perceptions about the impact of the base station on their property value and, most importantly, that data was combined with actual housing price changes over time. Changes were determined using a hedonic house price approach.Footnote 340 The hypothesis of this research was:

In suburbs where there is a CPBS [cell phone base station] constructed, it will be possible to observe that discounts are made to the selling price of homes located near these structures.

The survey data indicated that a major concern of people living proximately to a cell tower was the effect of this tower on property values – a third of the respondents believed it would decrease the price or rent they would be prepared to pay by between 1 to 9% and nearly a quarter (24%) indicated that they believed it would decrease the price or rent by between 10 and 19%. The findings of the market study of actual home prices confirmed the opinion survey results. In the two suburbs studied where towers were built in 2000, the effect of a tower on home prices was a decrease of between 20.7% and 21%. Interestingly, in the two suburbs where the towers were constructed in 1994, the effect was either insignificant or prices actually increased by 12% due to the presence of the tower. A possible explanation for this difference was the significantly increased media coverage and public controversy that surrounded the most recent tower placements in the study. Also, two high profile legal cases, involving cell towers, were decided after 1994 when the two earlier base stations were established.Footnote 341

Finally, the survey questionnaire provided respondents with the opportunity to indicate ongoing concerns they have with cell phone base stations and their location. Based on these comments the researcher concluded that:

In particular, there is the need for increasing the public's understanding of CPBSs [cell phone base stations], of how radiofrequency transmitting facilities operate, and of the strict exposure standard limits imposed on the telecommunication industry.Footnote 342

While arriving too late to be included in the data analysis, a recent empirical study of a site in southwest London, Ontario, commissioned by Telus Mobility and conducted by R.W. Hughes & Associates Inc.Footnote 343 offers further evidence that property values, this time in a Canadian context, are not impacted by proximity of communications towers. They state: "The quantitative data analysis indicates that the proximity of the communication tower has no measurable effect on the price/value of dwellings in close proximity to the tower."Footnote 344 They go on to say: "The analysis of the qualitative data indicates that a high percentage of the respondents in the study area do not perceive the proximate communication tower as a negative influence on the quality of their lives or on the price/value of their homes."Footnote 345

Recommendations about Antennas and Property Values

During public hearings, and other interactions between members of the public and antenna proponents and local land-use authorities, those who will live in close proximity to an antenna installation under consideration likely will raise concerns about the possible impact of the proposal upon the value of their properties. These individuals should be permitted to voice their concerns, but it should be explained that the principle purpose of consultations with the public and/or land-use authorities is to consider the visual impact of the antenna proposal upon the immediate environment. Negative impacts should be explored through discussions about the potential for loss of the particular amenities or important visual characteristics of the area.

Recommendation 34: That the impact (positive or negative) that an proposed antenna installation may have upon the property values of particular parcels of land should not be the subject of an antenna consultation.

Generally, land-use planning authorities are not required to take such impacts into account when siting urban and rural infrastructure that concerned members of the public may find objectionable. Almost every planning decision will produce positive and negative impacts upon the value of land located in the immediate vicinity.

This recommendation is consistent with the way in which the telecommunication and planning policies of Wales handle issues related to claims of loss of property values. The planning and development authorities will address the possible impact on property values only if there is evidence of a negative effect on the locality as a whole. To quote from the policy itself:

Authorities may receive representations about alleged impact of proposed telecommunications development on property values. It is not for the planning system to protect the private interests of one person against the activities of another. Although in a particular case considerations of public interest may serve to protect private interests, the material Question is not whether a particular development would cause financial or other loss to owners or occupiers of the neighbouring property, but whether the proposal would have a detrimental effect on the locality generally, and on amenities that ought, in the public interest, to be protected.Footnote 346

Even if the actual or perceived impact on individual property values is not to play a prominent role within public and local consultations in Canada, the concerns of residents about their property values should be important to both antenna proponents and to municipalities for two reasons. This information may aid in site selection and planning and help both constituencies to better understand one important source of likely opposition from neighbouring property owners. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, to the extent that the perceived or actual loss of property values relates to the public's intuitive sense of disamenity, that may be reduced through camouflaging, screening and landscaping techniques to make the antenna less obtrusive and by ensuring that the installation is sited as sensitively as possible in the circumstances. It is submitted that the public's sense of disamenity in relation to a particular antenna proposal also may be reduced when the community is consulted and participates in a meaningful way in the siting decision.

For the siting of an antenna tower to have a stigmatic effect upon the actual values of lands located very proximately to it, likely, it is necessary that public concerns about human exposure to radiofrequency fields be strong and pervasive. Those terms could not be used to describe current public perceptions in Canada about this issue, but this could change. It is submitted that another motivation for the proponents of significant antenna installations to develop proper risk communication strategies for their dealings with the public, is to keep the stigmatic effects of their installations to a minimum. Within the section of this report written in reply to Policy Question 2 (What information would best benefit concerned members of the public...) specific recommendations were made about the creation of risk communication strategies by Industry Canada and antenna proponents to address public concerns about human exposure to radiofrequency fields. Hopefully, the case for a risk communication strategy is more compelling when one considers the indirect benefits that may accrue.

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