State College

Harris Township weighs wireless facilities ordinance

A proposed ordinance that would update the township’s wireless facilities rules will move to a public hearing after Monday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

The municipality’s communication tower ordinance hasn’t changed since 1998, township Manager Amy Farkas said, even as the wireless industry has continued to grow.

“Facilities being installed are not only traditional cell towers,” Farkas said. “Facilities are smaller, more targeted and more numerous than cell towers.”

Smaller facilities, such as distributed antenna systems and data collection units, she said, are often placed along public rights of way on existing utility poles. And smaller, yet highly visible, cell towers are being installed “essentially in residents’ front lawns.”

“Most current municipal wireless ordinances, including ours, do not address these new technologies or new regulations,” Farkas said. “As such, they will not protect residential neighborhoods when companies try to install mini cell towers on residents’ front lawns.”

The township Planning Commission was asked to draft a wireless facilities ordinance as part of the 2016 work plan, she said. The draft addresses both tower-based and non-tower-based facilities both inside and outside the township right of way.

The draft was based on similar ordinances enacted by College and Ferguson townships, she said. Both municipalities contain non-tower-based antennas.

Within the right of way, she said, tower-based wireless facilities are only allowed if there are overhead utilities in the area. They are limited to a maximum height of 35 feet and can’t be located within 18 inches of the face of a curb or within the clear zone of the roadway.

Non-tower-based facilities inside the right of way are only permitted if there are above-ground utilities or street lights present, she said. They may not be attached to ornamental streetlights and may be no more than 6 feet in height.

Outside the right of way, tower-based facilities are only permitted in the agricultural zoning district, she said. They are limited to a maximum height of 200 feet and require security fencing and landscape buffers.

Non-tower-based facilities outside the right of way, she said, are permitted in all zones attached to any structure except single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes and historic structures located within the village zoning district. The facilities can be no higher than 15 feet above the roof and must be camouflaged.

In all cases, she said, a land development plan or zoning permit must be submitted before installation. The company proposing the facilities must demonstrate a need for the tower and alert nearby residents. The township retains the right to fix a fair, annual fee.

Supervisors unanimously approved the ordinance to move to a public hearing on May 9.

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews