By Emily Turner

SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) – Verizon has already built one church steeple with a cellphone tower inside it in Santa Rosa, now it wants to build another. And it wants to bypass the normal review process.

They are unlikely business partners, but Verizon wants to do a deal with a Santa Rosa church.

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In the middle of a Santa Rosa neighborhood, one church has become ground zero in a crusade against Verizon.

Neighbor Cailyn McCauley said, “My first thought was: Why is Big Brother here? And do I want Big Brother in my backyard?”

Right across the street from McCauley’s home is Community Baptist Church. It’s gone 60 years without a steeple but now it, and Verizon, aim to change that.

The church would get a 62-foot high steeple, complete with a cross and six cellphone antennas.

Verizon already built and paid for a similar steeple at a church across town earlier this year.

“A 60-plus-foot tower looming over my house would be seen from all angles. My front yard, my side yard, my backyard, even the yard furthest from them. So, I just don’t want a commercial enterprise looking over my house,” McCauley said.

Because the antennas would be building-mounted, the permits for it are classified as minor rather than major,  meaning it goes before a different review authority and has a different public notification and appeals process.

It also doesn’t require a neighborhood meeting, though the city required one knowing cell towers are controversial business.

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But not all neighbors are opposed.

Neighbor Theresa Schulz said, “I think it’s acceptable that Community Baptist Church takes that leap forward and ensures communication for this area.”

A Verizon spokesperson says service in the Santa Rosa area has consistently ranked low for coverage, a fact made clear in October’s fires.

This tower, Verizon says, would improve cell service for those living on the east side of town.

Something those in favor say is worth it.

“Communication was down everywhere for all of us. I could not reach my former spouse or my 13-year-old daughter during the firestorm for nine hours. They were unaccounted for. Possibly, if there were cellphone towers up in their neighborhood that did not burn, I could have reached them and been reassured that they were okay,” Schulz said.

For those who are concerned about the skyline or their cellphone coverage, the public comment period is open because that application has been submitted. However, the application is not complete at the moment. The Santa Rosa Planning Department expects to have a final decision in about eight weeks.

And this isn’t the only cellphone battle going on in Santa Rosa.

Verizon is also looking to put up more than 70 smaller cellphone antennas on PG&E utility poles and street lights.

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That proposal has sparked a lot of debate in Santa Rosa as well.