Cell tower plan puts South Park residents on edge

Matthew Santoni
| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Residents of South Park worry that their rural atmosphere and views of the park could be ruined by construction of a 190-foot-tall cellular tower near Ridge and McCorkle roads.

Allegheny County last year sought to lease up to 61 sites for cellular towers and antennas, including county parks, vacant lands and county-owned buildings. One site was in South Park, near the park's basketball courts and the South Park School District's campus.

“If you look out any of my front windows, you'd be staring right at it,” said Bill Collins, one of the neighbors working to organize opposition to the tower before an Aug. 20 meeting of the township's zoning hearing board.

“This thing's going to stick out like a sore thumb.”

Neighbors are concerned about the site's proximity to homes, recreational amenities and the schools, as well as visibility and the long-term effects of exposure to the tower's transmissions, he said.

South Park School District Superintendent Jeanine Gregory said the district had not planned to weigh in at the zoning hearing, though the school board could discuss the matter at its August meeting.

The South Park site, about 600 feet back from the intersection, is one of 24 being leased by South Fayette-based LJS Development and the first to move into the zoning and permitting phase, said LJS President Lou Siyufy.

The tower would require two variances from the zoning hearing board: one for placing a tower in an area zoned for a “regional park,” and one to build it to the proposed height of 190 feet.

Within the park, cellular coverage is spotty and wireless customers are seeking stronger signals and more data bandwidth, Siyufy said.

The tower could increase neighbors' cellular data speeds by taking some of the burden off of surrounding towers, he said.

“There are four towers that surround South Park,” he said. “In the interior of the park, all four carriers have very similar coverage, which is poor.”

LJS officials said demand for strong, consistent signals in the park area should outweigh objections. Some residents have signed letters of support, although tower opponents were going door-to-door gathering signatures on a petition.

The tower would have equipment for Verizon Wireless and AT&T.

Allegheny County could install equipment to boost its emergency communications for police, fire departments and EMS personnel.

The county asked to put its emergency communications equipment at the top of the tower and to place each piece of equipment 10 to 20 feet apart, county spokeswoman Amie Downs said.

Verizon Wireless wanted its antennas to be 170 feet up, and the county wanted its equipment above the cellular carrier's, so that's why the tower is proposed at 190 feet, she explained.

The county is leasing land to tower developers like LJS, but instead of collecting a flat rent, its revenue will be a share of payments the wireless companies make to lease space on each tower, Downs said.

About 50 residents attended a July 16 zoning hearing board meeting about the tower, Collins said. LJS asked for a continuance until Aug. 20 to revise its plans, Siyufy said.

LJS will meet with municipal officials to discuss whether there are other viable sites for the tower, LJS Vice President Pat Morosetti said.

If it's built at the current site, LJS officials said they would add trees and bushes to screen the fence and support machinery from view at ground level.

If the county reexamines its requirements for emergency communications antennas, the tower could be shorter.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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