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Cell tower discussion heats up Washington Township meeting

November 07, 2006|by KATE S. ALEXANDER

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Washington Township residents went to the corners Monday over an ordinance that would allow communication towers on township land. For those speaking out, the issue was black and white, with residents saying the tower was either a necessity or an atrocity.

"To take our (taxpayer's) property and put a cell phone tower in the middle of the forest is not a good idea, it's wrong," Elaine Gladhill of Carrosmar Farm Road said.

"I think it is essential," local Realtor Ronnie Martin said of the tower. "It is a health and safety issue ... something has to be done."

Despite the strong opinions of residents, supervisors saw some gray in the issue.

"This ordinance is just to identify communication towers for municipal land," board chairman Carroll Sturm said. "The township has the ability to negotiate the specifics."

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Cell phone towers are not covered under current township ordinances, officials said.

The evening's conflict came over proposed Ordinance 205, which would allow conditional use of communication towers on municipal property including forest conservation zones. The change was first proposed in September as part of draft Ordinance 220, which also included ending the use of PRDs (planned residential developments). After a public hearing on Ordinance 220, supervisors decided to split it into five ordinances, 202-206.

On Monday, separate public hearings were held for all five ordinances and supervisors voted on each. After an hour of discussion, with supervisors John Gorman and Stewart McCleaf absent, the board voted to wait for a full board.

"We will table this until Nov. 20 when a full board is present," Sturm said.

Residents were divided on even hypothetical issues, including which cell phone carriers would be allowed to use the tower, should it be erected.

"If one carrier is allowed, then every carrier should be allowed to use the tower," said Terry Sebold of Pennersville Road.

Sturm said that while Cingular is the carrier that wants to build the tower on township land, other carriers could place antennas on it, if they choose to.

"We have a provision in our agreement to allow other companies to locate on the tower," Sturm said. "What companies would decide to do is more of a commercial decision for them."

While almost every resident who spoke admitted to having or using a cell phone, residents also debated the social need for cell phones.

"I don't see where cell phones are an essential service," Sebold said.

"To many people, cell phones are an essential service," said Mary Beth Hockenberry, executive director of the Waynesboro Chamber of Commerce. "One of the chief complaints we receive at the Chamber is about the lack of cell phone service."

Supervisor Paul Benchoff said other possible sites for the tower were investigated before the ordinance was proposed.

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