Emsworth to meet again on tower

By NANCY WHYTE

The only cell tower in Emsworth may be relocated and enlarged, if the variance requests of a tower company are granted by the Emsworth Zoning Board. The board will hold a meeting next week to hear more comments from the public.

A zoning hearing was held Thursday, June 11, at the Emsworth Borough Building, during which Crown Castle, a company that owns more than 50,000 towers across the United States, sought relief from permitted use and property setbacks in accordance with Emsworth Zoning Ordinance No. 925.

Crown Castle representative Mike Knabe presented the variance requests to the three men -- Brian Shmigel, Brad Collins, and chair Ralph West -- who comprise the Emsworth Zoning Board. After nearly an hour-and-a-half of discussion, with many questions and concerns expressed by the more than 20 individuals present, the hearing was continued to July 16 when further information will be presented and additional time for questions provided, prior to the zoning board making its decision concerning the zoning variances.

Currently, there is only one cell tower in the Borough of Emsworth. That tower is located next to a business at the corner of Ohio River Boulevard and Lowry Street. The site of the proposed tower is across Route 65, at 138 Camp Horne Rd., Block and Lot 276-K-330.
The proposed cell tower would replace the current one.
"It would be a more substantial tower and would expand wireless coverage in the area," Knabe said. "To serve a valley, we have to be in a valley."
The proposed tower, according to Knabe, would greatly increase cell phone coverage along Camp Horne Road. The current tower, which Crown Castle purchased from T-Mobile two-and-a-half-years ago, was designed to provide coverage along the Route 65 corridor. The new tower, said Knabe, would be large enough to hold five different antennas, and several cell companies have already expressed an interest in being located on it."
The topography of Camp Horne Road places limitations on site location, Knabe explained. The Camp Horne corridor includes steep hills, a valley, and a flood plain, as well as a curvy road and variously-zoned properties.
Knabe said that the company looked at other locations along Camp Horne Road and determined that,
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Cell tower Continued from Page 1
"other properties are less suited," said Knabe. "We want to put the tower here to benefit the company and to be a good neighbor," he stated.
George Rossi, a former mayor of Emsworth, suggested that the same site of the current tower be utilized for the proposed new, larger tower.
Knabe stated that the current cell tower cannot be expanded. "It's a wood pole. It is literally impossible to expand at the current site" and there are some "non-conformance issues" with the current tower, due to property lines, the closeness of Route 65, and other zoning factors. "It (the pad where the pole is situated) is six foot by six foot and physically cannot get bigger."
When asked, Knabe did not have an explanation for why the current tower was not in compliance with the zoning code. "Remember, we (Crown Castle) purchased this tower from T-Mobile. What I do know is, we own the tower now, we are currently leasing the ground space."

Crown Castle, according to Knabe, owns the property on which the new cell tower would be built. The tower would be 75 feet from Camp Horne Road.

Concerning zoning, "We're seeking the minimum amount of relief possible. We believe that a "tiny triangle" area on "the two acres Crown Castle bought, is the only area where a tower can be built," said Knabe.

This site is "our best and only option. We're not adding a tower (to Emsworth), we're just relocating one." Knabe said.

Crown Castle is requesting two variances from Emsworth's zoning code. The first concerns the requirement that the tower be located 500 feet from a residential area zoned R1 or R2, and the second concerns setbacks from property lines.

Concerning the properties zoned "residential," Crown Castle is requesting 283 feet of relief from the code.

According to Knabe, the proposed tower would be "located 217 feet, as a crow flies," from R1/R2 properties. However, said Knabe, that residential-zoned property is "up the hill," and "based on topography, chances are" that the people who live there "won't know it is there" because they will be above it, and the cell tower would not be in their line of vision.

Regarding the setbacks from property line requirements, the zoning code requires a setback distance of 50 percent of the height of the structure. Crown Castle's proposed tower would be 150 feet tall. Thus, the tower should be located at least 75 feet from any property line.

The tower site would be situated less than 75 feet from four properties. Crown Castle is requesting reliefs of one foot from Port Authority property, 28 feet from a private individual's piece of property, 30 feet from the Kilbuck Street right-of-way, and 60 feet from another piece of property owned by Crown Castle.

Many issues about the proposed cell tower, but not pertaining to the zoning code, were brought up by Emsworth residents who attended the meeting.

One man, whose mother lives along Camp Horne Road, stated that about once-a-year, a tree along the road falls down or a telephone pole is hit by a vehicle. He asked what would happen if the proposed cell tower fell.

Knabe stated that Crown Castle takes "great pride in the maintenance" of its towers. "We monitor all sites, nationwide, 24/7, and he said that a tower coming down is "something I would never expect to see. The possibility of such an event would be slim."

Also, Knabe explained that the proposed tower would be behind a guide rail and would also be behind a chain-link fence." There might even be equipment shelters, as well, between the tower and the road, making it very unlikely that the tower could get hit by a wayward vehicle.

Another Camp Horne Road resident, concerned about his water well and water tables, asked about the depth of any digging/drilling Crown Castle would need to do in erecting the new tower.

"I don't know if we're planning to drill," answered Knabe, and said that a geo-technological study would need to be conducted. "How deep?" stated Knabe, "We're not at that point yet."

Another individual asked if the cell tower would cause static for local residents watching television.

Knabe admitted that he was not an engineer, but said he thought the number of the company's 50,000 towers causing static was very, very low.

Another individual suggested that instead of one, 150-foot-tall tower holding five antennas, that perhaps five 30-foot towers each holding one tower might be a better idea.

"Emsworth's zoning code encourages co-location," said Knabe. Co-location means fewer towers holding multiple antennas, as opposed to more towers holding only one antenna. "This tower can support five. In my opinion, that is better than five towers each supporting one," he said.

A resident who owns the property directly across Camp Horne Road from the proposed tower site expressed concern that the value of her property would decrease if a cell tower were to be constructed in the proposed location. "We'll have the primary view," she said.

Concerning noticing the tower, Knabe answered, "I agree. I can't say you won't notice it. You will. It is a 150-foot-tall piece of steel with antennas on it."

The resident also said, "While I may or may not agree with some people's health concerns about being close to cell towers, the general public panics."

Knabe stated that all those concerns would be addressed further along in the process. He reiterated that "The main point tonight is requesting the variance. This is a long process. The variance comes first. Without the variance, nothing else matters" he said. "You will have an opportunity down the road to express all concerns."

Terrence Ging, the solicitor for the Emsworth Zoning Board,said that, at the continued hearing in July, citizens could ask additional questions and bring supporting evidence, and Crown Castle also could present additional information. Then, the zoning board would make a decision concerning only the zoning variance requests, he said.

Ging concluded by saying that at next month's continuance, "The tower is not being approved or disapproved, but only the zoning variance request."

The continuance meeting is scheduled for Thursday, July 16, at 7 p.m. at the Emsworth Borough Building.

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