First Posted: 11/11/2014

On Oct. 29, the South Abington Township Zoning Hearing Board heard an application for a variance to allow the erection of a Verizon cell tower on Baptist Bible College and Seminary’s property. The hearing was recessed after two-and-a-half hours and will resume Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. in the South Abington Township building.

Mark Borden, the Vice President for Business & Finance at BBC and the liaison for the project, said, “Verizon Wireless has an obligation to its customers and the FCC to provide coverage. Other area towers are ‘trending toward exhaustion’ according to the Radio Frequency engineer for Verizon and they need an additional tower.”

Borden said the tower will be a flag pole like structure 100 feet tall and painted white with an American flag. A start date for construction has yet to be determined, pending the application process. If approved, construction may last two to three months.

According to plans, the cell tower is proposed to be erected in a low-density residential zoning district, approximately 100 feet of the municipal line between South Abington Township and the Borough of Clarks Green behind the residential Evans Street, located in Clarks Green.

South Abington Township is required to notify all neighbors within 300 feet of a given property, according to South Abington Township Zoning Officer David O’Neill. A letter was mailed to properties on South Abington Road, Pauline Drive, Venard Road, and Evans Street informed residents of the application.

According to the letter, the purpose of the hearing is, “An appeal by Northeast Pennsylvania SMSA Limited Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless….for a variance to Section 4.101; Table 1, 6.729.2 (b), 6.729.3 (d)(2), 6.729.3 (j), and 6.729.3 (k) of South Abington Township Zoning Ordinances to allow for a wireless communications facility to be built on property owned by Baptist Bible College,” and encouraged residents to attend the hearing if they wish to comment on the appeal.

“We regulate land use, and if somebody has a variance request to do something that does not have written approval, they are free to do so and it’s up to the zoning hearing board of the township to decide whether or not that is a good use of the property,” said O’Neill.

Witnesses in support of the application that Verizon identified at the Oct. 29 hearing will continue their testimony at the Nov. 20 meeting. Borden said the benefits of the tower include, “enhanced service for the area (several miles) which is greatly needed due to the increased use of devices.”

Clarks Green Borough Council President David Rinaldi said multiple Clarks Green residents addressed borough council at the work session Nov. 5 with concerns for the project, and that council was informed a petition opposing the cell tower is being circulated in Clarks Green.

Residents in the area are concerned of the project, “adversely affecting their property value, unsightliness, noise from operation and maintenance, potential increased health concerns tied to emanating radio waves, and destruction of the environment by removing the trees and causing additional storm water runoff or diversion onto neighboring properties,” according to Rinaldi.

Leila Walsh, of Clark Street located parallel to Evans Street in Clarks Green, said she is mostly concerned about how the proposed cell tower may negatively affect the aesthetics, value, and safety of her property.

“It’s a very quintessential residential area. It’s beautiful over here; that’s why we chose to live here, and it’s still an industrial architecture in a very residential area,” she said, and added a lot of the health risks regarding radiation from such towers are still undetermined.

Walsh said her family visits Baptist Bible often and that “they are great neighbors,” and acknowledged it’s the College’s private property and they may do what they want with it, but she said, “We want them to know that there are residents that border the property that don’t want it.”

According to Borden, BBC officials have requested a private meeting with Verizon and its officials to discuss the concerns of the neighbors after hearing concerns from the public. The meeting is scheduled for Nov. 12.

“We may have additional insight and information after that meeting takes place,” said Borden. “Baptist Bible College and Seminary greatly appreciates our relationships with our neighbors and we are working hard to protect and preserve those relationships.”

Rinaldi said Clarks Green Council will formally address the issue and any appropriate action to be taken by the municipality at the regular Clarks Green Borough Council meeting Nov. 19.

Residents and members of the community may publicly comment on the proposed building of the cell tower at the South Abington Township Zoning Hearing Board on Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the South Abington Township building, 104 Shady Lane Road.

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