Court Overturns Town’s Halt on Tower, “No Evidence of a Safety Concern”

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Verizon Wireless wants a 150-foot tower in Unity Township, PA. However the county’s judge, Richard E. McCormick Jr., and the town’s zoning hearing board are at odds.

TribLive.com reported that the board voted two to one in April to deny the request for a special exception that SBA, the developer, needed to build in a residential zone at Pershing Park near Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. McCormick overturned the board’s decision October 27, stating that “the board abused its discretion in objecting to the tower on safety and health issues and in finding that Verizon made a good-faith effort to find an existing structure where it could place new antennae.”

On the board’s side is Gabe Monzo, executive director of the airport authority. Monzo, according to TribLive.com, testified at a February hearing that the tower would create a hazard for aircraft using the airport. Additionally, the zoning board said that the SBA’s exhibit that showed “federal standards for human exposure to electromagnetic radiation from cell towers lacked sufficient detail to satisfy health and safety concerns.”

Also in that fight is Attorney Bernard Matthews, who represents several residents as an appellee intervenor. He argued that SBA did not sufficiently “demonstrate the tower would comply with electromagnetic-radiation standards set by the Federal Communications Commission” and that SBA can’t ask for a zoning exception because it does not own the property or have an active lease.

McCormick counter-argued that SBA indeed provided an FAA study that showed the tower would not interfere with air traffic. He said that Monzo’s statement was based on “personal, limited experience … their opinions on the broader topic are no substitute for that of the federal agency that engages in a comprehensive analysis of the situation and has been charged with the responsibility of ensuring air traffic safety across the nation,” according to TribLive.com.

McCormick also said that there was enough evidence to show the tower would not be a health and safety concern, and that Verizon adheres to FCC guidelines. After consulting with Verizon’s findings on the location, the judge found this was the optimum site to help cell service in the area. In arguing against Matthews’ lease finding, McCormick said that SBA purchased a two-year lease option in 2015, from the Columbus Home Association.

Matthews told TribLive.com that he, on behalf of the residents, is going to appeal McCormick’s reversal to Commonwealth Court. If the zoning board itself appeals, it must be filed by the township. There is a 30-day appeal window.

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