Concerns about air safety were among objections the Unity zoning hearing board recorded Tuesday from those opposed to construction of a 150-foot cellphone tower off Arnold Palmer Drive.
Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland Airport Authority, which operates nearby Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, acknowledged that the tower application had passed muster with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Aviation but said the township should require a higher standard to prevent what he sees as a potential air traffic hazard.
In a Feb. 10 letter to the township supervisors, included with his testimony, Monzo argued that “any elevated platform erected near the airport is dangerous.”
He said an aircraft striking the proposed tower would put many people on the ground at risk, including residents of the nearby Palmer Place residential development and Youngstown. He said the tower would be a particular concern for helicopters, which don't rely on a runway but can approach and depart the airport in any direction.
Palmer Place resident Stan Caraher expressed his fear of an unforeseen wind gust buffeting a passing aircraft into the proposed tower: “There goes the tower. There goes the plane. There goes my house.”
Joseph Cortese, legal counsel for tower user, Verizon Wireless, said his client would be willing to add lights to the tower if it would allay concerns about air safety.
Greensburg attorney Bernard Matthews, who is representing several opposed residents at Palmer Place, maintained that Verizon engineers and consultants didn't meet a zoning requirement to look at adding antennae to existing cell sites within a quarter-mile radius before committing to a new tower at Pershing Park, a picnic site owned by the Knights of Columbus.
Tim Stark of Wireless Resources, who helped to identify antenna locations for improving Verizon's cell service, said he investigated an area along Arnold Palmer Drive extending from the Latrobe Country Club on the eastern limit to the Cambria Suites hotel to the west. But he said he looked just a few hundred feet north and south of the road to stay within a “sweet spot” designated by Verizon for its coverage goal.
Opponents of the tower questioned why the wireless carrier didn't consider using radio towers that are within 1,000 feet of the Pershing site. Stark indicated those towers are too far south for Verizon's improved coverage plan.
Cortese said Verizon would have preferred installing antennae on the roof of Greater Latrobe High School, but an earlier application for that site was rejected by the township zoning board.
Board Chairman Tim Thomas said he believed the applicant didn't provide sufficient data to compare the Pershing site with other antenna locations.
Matthews and Cortese differed on the standing of site developer SBA Towers to apply for the zoning exception. Matthews argued that it does not have standing because it has not executed its option to lease the 100-square-foot tower site from the Knights of Columbus.
David DeRose, the township's zoning solicitor, agreed to accept follow-up documents from the attorneys in arguing their positions, but he noted that will delay the board's vote past the usual 45-day window for rendering a decision.
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