Portage area preparing for more communication towers

By Mike Sever Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Wireless telecommunication technology has expanded to include an array of services _ from paging and cellular telephones to wireless computer modems. A new type of wireless talking, called personal communication services, is also on the horizon.

The technological differences between digital cellular and PCS are pretty much invisible to the end user. But their most vital link _ transmission antennae installations _ are also the most visibly intrusive for residents.

Because PCS operates at a higher frequency and lower power than digital cellular, it uses smaller towers spaced more closely together. PCS systems will require antennae situated anywhere from a half-mile to 9 miles apart.

And some Portage County communities are concerned that more antennae could have negatives effects on their health, property values, and the aesthetics of their neighborhoods.

Lynne Erickson, director of the Portage County Regional Planning Commission, said commission staff have drafted several sets of regulations for use by townships to control the placement of telecommunication towers.

"We just did one review for Hiram Township," she said. "Regulations have been adopted by Rootstown, Brimfield, and are being considered elsewhere," she said.

The Ohio Revised Code allows townships to regulate the siting of towers in residential areas. But towers may be placed anywhere within an industrial area.

Randolph Township adopted regulations to control cellular tower locations last year and W. Scott Bush, chairman of Randolph's zoning commission, said residents strongly opposed the first request for a tower site.

"We have had two requests (for towers). One was turned down by Randolph. Most of the neighboring residents were vehemently opposed. A second tower was requested about a year ago and it was installed" in a lesser populated area than where the first tower was proposed.

The first company did not challenge the township's rejection of the tower because it was in a residential area.

"These are for-profit companies," Bush said. "To me, as zoning commission chairman, there's no difference. These people asking to put a tower in a residential zone is not different from anyone else asking to put a business in a residential area," Bush said.

"If residents or township trustees object, then zoning can be enforced. If it's in a commercial or industrial area, there's no township zoning," Bush said.

Across the country there have been legal disputes over siting, because federal law prohibits any action that would altogether ban the construction, modification or placement of wireless service facilities in a particular area.

Some carriers have declared that as public utilities, they are exempt from local zoning codes. But recent case law in Ohio has held that carriers have to prove they are public utilities.

"The burden of proof is on them to prove they are (public utilities), and most of them are not," Erickson said.

Assistant Prosecutor Chad Murdock, who serves as legal counsel for Portage townships, said there have been no local lawsuits over the issue. But townships are interested in preserving their control of tower placement.

So far, Portage County has been missed by the large scale buildout of PCS, but local government is gearing up for the coming demand.

"Northeast Ohio is seeing a fairly dramatic build-out of wide band PCS," said Rick Patterson Jr., director of PSS Telecom Management, a Kent telecommunications management firm. "Most of Portage County hasn't seen a lot of this yet."

The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 set up the provisions for placement of antennas and other structures. It also establishes the jurisdictions by state and local zoning authorities over towers and facilities.

Communities can turn the demand for tower sites to their advantage, bargaining for multi-use towers on government land, Patterson said.

Several radio transmitters can be located on one tower, a process called co-location. Patterson said space on the towers can be leased out to several users for additional income to the community.

Such a policy is attractive from a public policy perspective, because it distributes some good from the towers _ rental income _ among all the community members who have to put up with what some consider a blight on the landscape.

Portage County commissioners are looking closely at the issue because

plans for the new county engineer's headquarters include a new

communications tower.

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.