Allegheny County Council considering cell towers, billboards on county property
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Dozens of new cell towers and billboards could appear on Allegheny County-owed land in the coming years if county council approves legislation allowing such structures.
Members of council's public works committee last week made no recommendation on an ordinance proposed by county Executive Rich Fitzgerald that would permit construction of towers and advertising signs on dozens of pieces of county property, bringing in revenue for the county. The measure will be discussed by full council when it meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Gold Room of the county courthouse.
Many of the 45 potential sites for communications towers are in county parks on large tracts of land.
The 38 sites proposed as suitable for billboards are in about two dozen communities. Some would be on much smaller pieces of property that are, not surprisingly, facing busy roads.
One site on the county list is a 2,800-square-foot vacant lot in Ben Avon. It is on Ohio River Boulevard, across the street from Laurel Village. Another tract is on a 15,000-square-foot lot at the south entrance of the Liberty Tunnel on West Liberty Avenue.
The most high-traffic location probably is the Allegheny County Jail property, which is between Second Avenue and the Parkway East.
Before any towers or advertising signs could be erected, successful bidders would have to get the approval of local governments and meet municipal zoning and building codes, county manager William McKain told members of the public works committee. The county eventually could collect almost $3 million annually in rents and lease fees, he said.
In addition to providing the county with new sources of revenue, communication towers and billboards could bring non-financial benefits, Mr. McKain said.
Some of the proposed advertising signs would have digital displays with changing messages. Deals with the billboard companies would include provisions allowing the county to post free messages, he said. Such advertisements might promote county parks programs or public safety efforts.
At least 10 of the locations proposed for communications towers are in places that would help both county and municipal police and fire departments improve their dispatch and 911 systems. Those departments would get some no-cost space on the towers for repeaters and transmitters.
Councilman Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin, said he was pleased to hear of that benefit. Additional towers could reduce the number of communications "dead spots" resulting from Allegheny County's hill-and-valley topography.
Councilwoman Barbara Daley Danko, D-Regent Square, said she applauded efforts by Mr. Fitzgerald's administration to find new sources of money, but she had serious concerns about adding to the number of billboards in the county.
She asked whether the proposals to lease county land for more cellular towers and more billboards could be divided into two ordinances.
Contacted after the committee meeting, Amie Downs, a spokeswoman for Mr. Fitzgerald, said the county executive had no objections to council considering each issue separately.
Councilman Matt Drozd, R-Ross, said he, too, thought the proposals needed more discussion before council acted. "It is good to look for new revenue ... but these projects can upset neighbors," he said.
Interviewed after the committee meeting, Ms. Danko said she believed the billboard proposal would be the more controversial of the two.
"The original bill presumed that we wanted more billboards before we had any discussion of whether we wanted more billboards," she said.
County officials are not expecting any significant lease revenue until 2014, Mr. McKain said. That timetable would allow time to obtain municipal approvals and then construct cell towers and advertising signs.
First Published September 17, 2012 12:00 am