South Park residents pack hearing to oppose planned cell tower

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After three hours of testimony and public comment at a packed hearing on a proposed communications tower in South Park Township, the hearing was adjourned and will resume Sept. 17.

LJP Development Partners LLC wants to build the 190-foot-tall structure in a lot off McCorkle Road that it is leasing from Allegheny County.

Residents who live near the site packed the meeting room Aug. 20, many carrying signs in opposition to the proposed tower because of what they fear will be potentially adverse effects on health, neighborhood aesthetics and property values.

Along with seeking variances to construct the tower, the company is filing a validity challenge to the township’s zoning ordinance, claiming it represents a “de facto exclusionary provision” and possibly violates the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, according to a modification to the variance application submitted by the firm’s attorney Thomas Ayoob.

The contention is that the township limits communications towers to 100 feet tall and permits them solely in the township’s I-2 zone, which encompasses 82 acres in the southeastern corner of the municipality. Those provisions do not allow for a structure that would deliver sufficient telecommunications coverage to the central portion of the township, where a “significant gap” now exists, Mr. Ayoob said.

Section 704 of the Telecommunications Act states, in part, that “the regulation of the placement, construction and modification of personal wireless service facilities by any state or local government shall not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services.”

Some residents questioned the need for improved service in the township, including P. Ronald Cooper, chairman of the township zoning hearing board, who said he has no problems with cell phone reception in areas that supposedly have poor coverage.

Mark Uminski, whose resume includes stints as vice president of engineering for AT&T Wireless and chief technology officer for Crown Castle International, testified on LJP’s behalf that coverage is not sufficient for the increased demand for wireless data transfer, which requires stronger signal strength than voice transfer.

Mr. Uminski said customers in South Park draw their signals primarily from towers in surrounding municipalities, including Union, Bethel Park and Pleasant Hills.

“Effectively, everybody has been trying to serve your township from outside the township,” he said.

The height of the proposed tower is under 200 feet, meaning it would not have to be fitted for lights, as per Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

Lou Siyufi, president of LJS Development Inc., which owns one-third of LJP, said he examined two potential sites in South Park, and the location of McCorkle Road is Allegheny County’s preference.

“We picked the park because it’s not residential,” Mr. Siyufi explained. “It’s away from homes. It’s in a wooded setting.”

Residents who live nearby opposed the tower throughout the Aug. 20 hearing. They will have the opportunity to comment on the record during the continuation.

Harry Funk, freelance writer:

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