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T-Mobile to add two more antennas on Service Electric tower

A request for T-Mobile to add two antennas on a Service Electric tower in Salisbury Township has been approved.

Antennas on the tower are used for cellphone communication.

The Salisbury Township Zoning Hearing Board voted unanimously 5-0 to approve the appeal by T-Mobile Northeast, LLC, for a variance “to increase an existing nonconforming use beyond 25 percent over the life of its nonconformity” by placing two additional antennas on a commercial communication tower located at 1809 Savercool Ave., in a conservation-residential zoning district.

Zoning hearing board member Ron Evans made the motion, seconded by zoning hearing board alternate member Tom Spinner, to bring the matter to a vote.

Nine participants were listed on Zoom for the T-Mobile portion of the March 2 zoning hearing. Zoners met in the municipal building meeting room.

Four antennas would be replaced and two antennas would be added on the approximate 300 foot tall tower located on a portion of Lehigh Mountain, north of East Susquehanna Street and Broadway.

Attorney Michael S. Grab, partner, Nikolaus & Hohenadel, LLP, law firm, Columbia, Lancaster County, represented T-Mobile and opened the testimony by referring to the Wireless Broadband Collocation Act passed in 2012 by the Pennsylvania Assembly, which he said determines the variance appeal is “simply an administrative process.”

Attorney Victor F. Cavacini, of Gross McGinley, LLP, law firm, Allentown, and the township zoning hearing board solicitor, cited a Feb. 4, 2021, memo from Attorney John W. Ashley, of Davison & McCarthy law firm, Allentown, who is the township solicitor, and “still believed there needed to be zoning relief,” Cavacini said.

“I don’t read the collocation act as meaning all zoning be disregarded,” Cavacini said.

Grab continued by noting the lattice tower “has multiple antennas.

“There’s going to be some new radio equipment put in the cabinet, but nothing to expand the cabinet,” Grab said.

The tower is owned by Service Electric Cable TV and Communications.

“The antennas are a bit outdated. We’re looking to update the technology to continue to provide coverage to the area,” testified Conor Sheerin, a consultant.

T-Mobile leases space on the antenna tower from Service Electric. Other communication firms rent space for antennas on the tower from Service Electric. There are approximately 30 antennas on the tower.

Zoning hearing board member Joseph Kovach asked who is responsible for maintenance. Service Electric is responsible for the tower. T-Mobile is responsible for its equipment.

The existing antennas are 56 inches tall and 8 inches wide.

The new antennas would be 59 inches tall and 9 inches wide.

Attorney Kent Herman, zoning hearing board chairman, asked if there would be appreciable differences in lighting, noise or interference with other technology, such as TVs. He was told there would not be.

Spinner asked how the antennas would be installed. He was told a mechanical crane would be used. The installation was said to take approximately one week.

“Does it emit any environmental risk to neighbors?,” Cavacini asked.

“It’s all radio-frequency. Generally, emissions are hundreds of levels below,” Sheerin said.

Cavacini asked if a wind-loading analysis was completed, if an inter-modulation analysis was done and if an electromagnetic emissions study was done. He was told all were done.

“Does it emit electromagnetic radiation?,” Cavacini asked.

“Yes, it does,” Grab said.

“Do they even need a variance?” Herman asked.

“This is a nonconforming tower,” Cavacini replied.

“Electromagnetic emissions are an issue,” Cavacini added.

“We reached out to Attorney Ashley because it was a nonconforming use,” Kerry Rabold, Salisbury Township zoning officer said.

“We are unable to use 5G. The antennas with the facility are now obsolete,” Kevin Risner, senior engineer, Radio-Frequency Development, T-Mobile, said, noting the merger of Sprint with T-Mobile, which concluded in 2018.

“T-Mobile is prohibited from interfering. T-Mobile operates within strict bandwidths,” Risner said.

Kovach asked about the definition of 5G, the fifth version of technology for broadband cellular networks, which began to be used in 2019.

“5G uses a much more sophisticated modulation, 100 to 200 megabytes per second. It requires an additional antenna,” Risner said.

Jeff Kelly, director of engineering, Service Electric Cable and Communications, testified T-Mobile has had a contract since 1997 with Service Electric to lease space on the tower.

Kathleen Nesfeder, whose property is adjacent to the tower property, asked, “What is the difference in radio frequencies? How much additional radio frequency will be in the area?”

“We comply with all FCC regulations,” Grab said.

“Who monitors radio frequency?” Nesfeder asked.

“The FCC,” Risner said.

“Did you know that California banned 5G towers because of causing cancer?” Nesfeder asked.

“No. That’s not true,” Risner said.

“We only transmit a fraction of what we’re authorized to transmit,” Risner said.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of data about these things. I would say I’m neutral. It’s a concern,” Nesfeder said.

“We’ve been inspected by the FCC for radiation. They were up there twice. We make sure we’re always in compliance. We’re well within the exposure limits for any type of radiation,” Kelly said.

“If you decide to grant approval, it’s subject to proving all these matters,” Cavacini said.

“It won’t alter the essential character of the neighborhood,” Herman said.

“It would be appropriate to make conditions that the applicant provide the zoning officer with a report,” Herman said, noting approval be conditioned upon a report about technical requirements.

In another appeal at the March 2 hearing. zoners voted 5-0 to approve the appeal of Michael Smith and Jill Lipovsky Smith, 1162 Glick Ave., for a variance to construct a two-story residential addition within the required front yard setback (25 feet required, 19.81 feet proposed) and maintain an accessory within the required rear yard setback (6 feet required, 0.35 feet existing). The property is in the R3, medium low density residential zoning district.

There were 11 participants listed for this portion of the March 2 hearing, with no objectors.

Jill Smith showed the site plan and a photograph depicting a retaining wall at the end of the street.

Glick Avenue is a paper alley, which is defined as a planned street never adopted by a municipality.

“We are up against the highway, I-78. The house is on an angle. We’re really not going to have any negative impact on neighbors because there aren’t any neighbors on either side,” Jill Smith testified.

To the north of the property is a water-retention basin, which is maintained by South Whitehall Township.

There were no questions by zoners.

Rabold said she recommended a variance for a pre-existing shed also be included.

The Salisbury Township zoning hearing board was scheduled to meet 7 p.m. April 6 in the municipal building with the public and media pre-registering via Zoom.