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Hempfield cell tower plan pits brother against brother

| Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A proposed cellphone tower that Verizon wants to erect in Hempfield has pitted brother against brother.

Dennis Henry signed a lease with the phone company to allow construction of a tower on his property. His brother, John, opposes the project because the tower will be directly in front of his house along Middletown Road.

The township zoning hearing board will have to decide whether the tower can be built. Verizon is seeking a variance that will allow erection even though the design falls short of the two-mile separation required between cell phone towers. Three other towers fall below the two-mile distance.

“I'll be looking right at the tower,” said John Henry.

The board heard testimony Tuesday from officials representing Verizon and two township residents who will be affected by the tower. Signs protesting the structure's construction began appearing throughout the Fort Allen area.

John Henry also noted that the tower will be within 300 feet of the Fort Allen Elementary School. He said residents are concerned the tower will decrease the value of their homes.

“I don't think it's going to be a hardship on Verizon ... the property owners will suffer a larger percentage of hardship if we try to sell our property.”

Verizon said it needs the tower to meet FCC requirements to close any gaps in cellular telephone coverage. Officials said they tried to locate the tower on property at Hempfield Area High School, but the school board rejected their proposal. Several other sites were technically unsuitable, said Bert Stern, director of site development for Centerline Communications of Philadelphia.

“The determination was that the Hempfield property was the most suitable to provide coverage.”

Attorney Mark Aletto said the 193-foot-high tower will meet Verizon's demands as cellphone usage increases. The existing towers in the area can't handle the demand, and Verizon is mandated by the FCC to close those gaps.

“It puts a lot of constraint on the carrier,” he said. “We cannot provide the coverage we are required to.”

Aletto said Verizon customers are experiencing anything from no phone coverage to spotty coverage to dropped calls.

“If an area has poor or intermittent coverage, that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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