Wireless cell structure approved in Hampton to the dismay of residents

Thursday, November 7, 2019 | 12:01 AM

Hampton Council members said they’re bound by law to approve the small non-tower wireless communication structure by applicant Crown Castle, which they did 5-0 at a special meeting held Nov. 6 at the community center.

The issue was much debated by residents during the public comment period and at last month’s public hearing on the application.

Crown Castle, which installs communication infrastructure in various capacities, was hired by Sprint to install a small cell structure or DAS, a distribution antenna system, to help keep up with data demands in that area specifically. Sprint identified this site as a gap in coverage, according to Shawn Gallager, of Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney PC. Crown Castle’s application was submitted in June.

The structure is set to be placed within a right of way at 2995 Haberlein Road, which also is the residential property of Charles Cubarney and his wife. Council’s vote passed last week with several conditions to be met. One includes testing on the soil and air will be done initially to establish a base line and then yearly thereafter to make sure Crown Castle is within the FCC guidelines. Councilperson Bethany Blackburn requested testing to be done by a third party.

Residents expressed concern about the health effects that could come from the level of radio frequency emissions of this type of device, particularly since it’s set to be located near Poff Elementary.

Also, they said it could lower property values and the applicant, or those similar to Crown Castle, could place additional DAS in the area. Also, while it is not being used for a 5G system now, it could be adapted to that in the future, another worry for residents concerned on health effects of radio emissions.

“Something’s missing. Something’s wrong. It’s your job to keep us safe and make the right choice,” said Sarah Cadarette of Summitt Drive.

Tina Cook of Haberlein Drive said she’s a corner property owner and is concerned that her property may be looked at soon for a DAS, something she does not want.

“Why do residents have to fight for our property?” said Cook.

However, the Federal Communications Commission has laws that keep townships and municipalities like Hampton from prohibiting applications for structures like this. And despite several comments from council that they also did not want this type of infrastructure in their community, they stated they were legally bound to approve it.

And Crown Castle has complied with all of Hampton Township’s zoning laws and ordinances to date.

Daniel Cohen, a lawyer who specializes in representing municipalities and local governments, noted that FCC regulations override Hampton Township’s regulations and ordinances.

“Federal law is quite clear that the township can’t prohibit these wireless facilities,” said Cohen. “Unfortunately, the township’s hands are tied on this issue.”

Some were concerned there was not enough notice about this to residents. Hampton Land Use Administrator Amanda Gold-Lukas said in this case federal requirements included posting notice in the area of the proposed location and notifying residents within 300 feet of the proposed location. Hampton did both, said Gold-Lukas.

The structure would be placed on a new utility pole with an overall height of 33 feet, approximately 10 feet lower than the surrounding ones, said Paul Gilbert, network real estate manager for Crown Castle. For aesthetic improvements, they would install a streetlight on the pole, and relocate a stop and street sign on it.

If Crown Castle were to apply as a public utility it would have more leeway into what it wanted to do, according to council President Mike Peters. However, Pennsylvania Supreme Court is now deciding that status. Since they are submitting as a zoning applicant it at least gives the township some management of the structure, he said.

Also, they can’t prohibit this based on concern over possible health effects, because the DAS system should fall less than the FCC limit of the maximum Radio Frequency emissions exposure, according to Crown Castle applicants.

Gold-Lukas said the timeframe that federal law indicates a vote must be made on an application is past. Even delaying the vote wasn’t much of an option, according to Cohen. Because the applicant could get a temporary restraining order within approximately 10 days and put in the pole.

If council denied it, they would basically be breaking the law and Crown Castle could take them to court. Hampton would also be responsible for all legal fees for both parties. Hampton solicitor Vince Tucceri said “failure to take action on this issue either way would be (equal) to approval.”

Councilperson Richard Dunlap said he looked into ways they might be able to deny the application but could not find anything.

“The law is very clear. I am not going to vote against something that is against the law,” said Dunlap.

He recommended residents to contact US Congress on the FCC rules. As a township, they are members of the Pennsylvania Municipal League and can lobby through them.

Township council said they will try to modify their ordinances as best they can, but only so much can be done and still adhere to FCC ordinances.

“We tried to look at everything that we could and every option. We tried to find a way out of this,” said Peters.

“I feel your pain. I understand where you’re coming from … we are legally bound to approve this application,” said Hampton Councilperson Dr. Carolynn Johnson.