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Cell phone tower resembling tree discussed in Pa.

February 18, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

BLUE RIDGE SUMMIT, Pa. - Whether a mighty oak or palm tree, the disguises for a 200-foot cell phone tower would only make it that much more conspicuous, at least according to the company looking to develop a tower in Washington Township, Pa.

The township supervisors last week questioned Liberty Towers about altering the tower proposed at 15387 Jacobs Church Road to resemble a tree. Because the tower would be a conditional use in the commercial zone, the supervisors have a greater say in how the structure would be developed.

The tower developer wouldn't necessarily have a problem creating the disguise over antenna arrays, but a tree tower would stand out more than a regular galvanized pole, said Randell Holmes, a consultant working with Liberty Towers and service carriers.

"When you start to put branches on something that could be 400 to 500 feet in length, ... you will see them from anywhere," Holmes said.

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He said he feels the only aesthetically pleasing tree towers are the ones in the West that are modeled off palm trees.

"You certainly can't make a deciduous tree that doesn't lose its leaves in the winter. You're making a stealth product that doesn't look very stealth," Holmes said.

Liberty Towers, a tower developer and owner, has said it would provide infrastructure for carriers possibly to include AT&T, Nextel, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint PCS. Agreements would bring in carriers like "a shopping center flipped on its end," according to Mike Hofe of Liberty Towers.

"We provide the vertical real estate," he said.

"Most of us drive by three, four, 10 (towers) a day on the way to work without noticing them," Holmes said.

When meeting with township supervisors and neighbors of the proposed site last Wednesday, Hofe said a new cell phone tower on the mountain would ensure connectivity with the Enhanced 911 system. It would also provide wireless coverage for Blue Ridge Summit, provide connectivity to adjacent towers, and provide coverage and connectivity for Cascade and the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base.

Liberty Towers showed computer models generated by recent tests the company did at the proposed site, which sits below the grade elevation of Pa. 16. Various colors represented what company officials said would be the quality of coverage in buildings and vehicles, with green (the best coverage) dominating the area several miles around the proposed tower.

The models showed poor coverage on Pa. 16 just north of the intersection with Beartown Road. However, company representatives said they recently stuck a transmitter on a crane on the mountain, then drove the route several times and demonstrated continuous service when their wireless devices switched from one transmitter to another.

Hofe said the nearest existing towers are behind Homes by Keystone in Rouzerville, Pa., and behind the Fountaindale (Pa.) Fire Co.

"There are none that really serve the Blue Ridge Summit area," Hofe said.

While a tower can serve a three-mile radius in perfect conditions, various factors affect the tower's range, he said.

"A given site can only support so many users," Hofe said. "It's also a function of terrain."

Supervisor Elaine Gladhill, who lives in Blue Ridge Summit, said a dropped call near Beartown Road would still be an improvement in service.

"Right now you lose it at Red Run," she said.

Sentiments like that are what bring about efforts for new towers, Hofe said.

"When customers complain, that's when carriers get active and install their transmitters," he said.

A consideration for Liberty Towers will be a law protecting the view from the Appalachian Trail, a regulation that supervisors said has foiled at least one attempt to build a cell phone tower in the past.

Hofe assured the supervisors that, with the planned location, "any residential structure is outside of the 'fall zone.'"

However, neighbors of the proposed site spoke out against the location at the meeting.

Supervisor John Gorman, who lives in Blue Ridge Summit, expressed concerns about the military helicopters that often fly over the mountain in foggy conditions. He said he has seen them fly low and land on Monterey Golf Course.

Federal Aviation Administration involvement will be part of the planning, company officials said.

Liberty Towers would have to go through the land development process and a pair of conditional-use hearings before it could build the single pole that has been proposed. That "monopole" would be in a fenced compound with radio equipment.

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