A motion to deny a proposal to place a cellular antenna within an R-1 residential district failed a Township Council vote Thursday, but discussion on the proposal is far from over.
The proposal is based on a plan to place the antenna along Cortland Drive across from the Nittany Orchard Park. The plan was originally submitted by Verizon Wireless in the fall, according to 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.
Several residents of Cortland Drive voiced their objection to the plan during the May 3 meeting of the township Planning Commission. Residents argued that the proposal did not fall under a non-tower-based wireless communication facility based on the township’s own regulations, saying that support structures, such as a chain-link fence and access road, constituted a tower-based facility, which isn’t allowed in the residential district.
Despite resident objections, the plan received a majority vote to be recommended for passage by the Township Council based on the opinion of Gabrovsek and the township solicitor that the plan did in fact constitute a non-tower-based WCF.
Developer Eric Brinser presented the proposal before council, indicating some changes had been made since the initial presentation. These included reducing the number of antenna panels from 12 to nine in an attempt to make the array less noticeable, the addition of a lightning rod and the addition of columns supporting the antenna-support shed since grading the hill would not be an option.
Additional changes were added to the structure to match the aesthetic of the surrounding neighborhood, he said, including painting the tower and antenna to match the adjacent wooden utility poles, adding siding to the support shed and changing the chain link fence to a wrought-iron fence.
Cortland residents, however, remained unchanged in their initial opinions of the proposal, arguing that the antenna violates First Energy’s own rules of housing flammable liquids beneath power lines, that no amount of painting will hide the array and the addition of an array will drop nearby house values.
Councilwoman Carla Stilson made a motion to deny the plan, saying it didn’t meet the township’s ordinance that a non-tower-based stealth array should be “indistinguishable and unnoticeable.” The vote failed 4-1.
Council will have to make a decision on the proposal during its scheduled June 2 meeting, engineer Kent Baker said, or the proposal will be automatically approved by June 13 when the time limit runs out.
In other business, President Lynn Herman announced that Thursday’s meeting would be his last on the council, saying he has moved out of the township and is no longer eligible to serve. According to council documents, Herman’s seat will be filled by former township planning commission member Anthony Fragola, who resigned from the commission Thursday.
The change will take effective June 1, and Fragola will serve until the end of Herman’s term on Dec. 31, 2017.