A wireless communication facility proposal in College Township is set to go before council, though residents may not be pleased with the attached recommendation.
Verizon Wireless has proposed the placement of a cellular antenna along Cortland Drive across from the Nittany Orchard Park. The proposal was brought before township staff in the fall of 2015, according to a letter by zoning officer Mark Gabrovsek.
This spring, Verizon submitted plans for an “in kind” replacement of an existing utility pole, Gabrovsek said, replacing the existing wood utility pole with a new metal pole of the same height, plus an additional 15 feet for the antenna array at the top.
Township code permits non-tower-based wireless communications facilities in any zoning district attached to a structure, he said, except for single-family homes, patio homes, duplexes and townhouses. It was the opinion of the township solicitor that an in-kind replacement of the pole with one the same height should be considered as an existing structure.
The antenna would be supported with a ground structure housing a generator and transmission equipment, he said, and was to be surrounded by a chain-link fence. Support structures are allowed with a WCF, and the housing structure would be designed to resemble other structures found in an R-1 single-family zone.
“College Township is aware that a cellular antenna in a residential area is not something that most residents welcome,” Gabrovsek said in the letter. “However, the township is not allowed to use prejudice or popularity to approve or reject a permit application.”
Several residents were in attendance during the May 3 meeting of the township planning commission, which had scheduled discussions of the antenna for that evening.
By definition, Gabrovsek said that evening, the proposal met the definition of a non-tower-based WCF. A tower-based facility would involve a standalone structure built solely for the purpose of supporting an antenna.
In addition to replacing the wood pole with a metal monopole and adding the support equipment, developer Eric Brinser said, the lot would also include a gravel access road and additional vegetation flanking both sides of the lot. Some landscaping and grading would also be necessary to help conceal the equipment structure.
Cortland Drive resident Michael Betts presented his case before the commission arguing why they should recommend denying the proposal to the township council. Betts claimed that adding a metal monopole should not be considered an “in kind” replacement as the surround support structures disturbs more land than most lots on the road.
Betts also argued that the proposal did not fall under a non-tower-based WCF based on the township’s own regulations, pointing out that additions like equipment sheds, roads and fencing only fall under the township’s regulations for tower-based facilities, which are only allowed in industrial and university planned district zones.
Resident Tom Palchak raised the point that any additions near the First Energy-owned transmission lines fall under First Energy’s guidelines for power lines, including restrictions on grading, structures and the storing of explosive materials, such a fuels, near a transmission pole.
During commission discussion, Chairman Ray Forziat also questioned the “in kind” consideration, noting that during the meeting, Verizon representatives referred to the pole as a “tower” several times.
“Would Verizon replace this pole if there wasn’t going to be an antenna on top of it?” he asked. “But it sounds like ... it’s being replaced to put an antenna on top of it.
“It comes down to tower versus antenna,” he said.
Gabrovsek assured the commission, via the township solicitor, there is “ample” case law supporting the new pole as an in kind replacement.
“If we replace a wooden pole with a steel pole,” he said, “that has the same dimensions, it’s considered an in kind replacement.”
Because the commission does not have the authority to determine the nature of the tower, a motion was made recommending the proposal to council saying the commission agrees with the zoning officer and solicitor’s opinion that the proposal constitutes an “in kind” replacement.
The motion passed 4-3, with Robert Hoffman, Kevin Ryan, Alfred Barbour and George Khoury voting in favor, and Forziat, Anthony Fragola and Haining Schoeneman voting against. Township engineer Kent Baker said the issue would likely be going before the township council on May 19, with June 2 as the absolute deadline for the council to discuss.