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Shalersville cell tower creates controversy

Unlit structure near airport OK'd; board says its inconvenient to pilots

By MATTHEW MERCHANT Staff Writer Published: April 14, 2017 4:00 AM
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A unlit cellular tower project on Infirmary Road was given the go-ahead recently, despite concerns from both the county building inspector and regional airport.

The now-approved, 160-foot monopole T-Mobile cellular service tower will be located at 9731 Infirmary Road in Shalersville Township on the property of Larry Lang.

That property borders the Portage County Regional Airport, with the tower set to be built roughly 700 feet from the property line.

Airport Board President Chris Gilmore said the tower has been a point of discussion for months and was under the impression that it was "a dead issue." But the tower received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration after an aeronautical study revealed "the structure does not exceed obstruction standards and would not be a hazard to air navigation."

The study also revealed that "marking and lighting are not necessary for aviation safety," though those items were encouraged to be build to FAA standards. A 7-foot lightning rod will top the structure.

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While the tower wouldn't be in direct flight path of planes from the airport, Gilmore said it would be an inconvenience for pilots due to its unlit construction and its proximity to the landing area for planes.

A federal law under the FCC states that local zoning codes cannot restrict the construction of cell tower. A contractor for T-Mobile, Eco-Site, evaluated the site and deemed it to be in compliance with federal law.

Eco-Site also sent a letter to Shalersville Township zoning inspector Jason Garey stating "Section 519.211 of the Ohio Revised Code exempts new tower sites from township zoning when they are proposed to be located outside of an area zoned for residential use," adding that the zoning of the property was Light Industrial.

But the lack of lights is only one of the concerns at the tower site. The tower was also granted a variance by the State Board of Building Appeals to ignore fire-resistance ratings in Ohio's building code.

Charles Corcoran, director of the Portage County Building Department, said the unlit status is typical of all structures under 200 feet in height, per state construction code. But he took the initial construction plans to the State Board of Zoning Appeals over a discrepancy in the fire-resistant materials proposed to be used in the tower.

Cell towers fall under a construction category of "utility," and structures in that category fall into several types. For towers at a maximum height of 160 feet, they fall into Type I B, which means they would also follow fire-resistance ratings for the same, which require minimal fire-resistance materials.

However, Corcoran said common practice has been to classify Type I B towers as Type II B fire-resistance. Those rating don't require any additional construction.

"I enforce the State of Ohio zoning code. We go straight by the book here. There are no exceptions. That book says that if you're going to build something of this height, you have to be this construction type. There are no exceptions. That's why I took it to the state board," Corcoran said. "For many years, we as building departments across the state have been approving these things thinking that, gee, footer, foundation, steel tower, antennas up top -- Type II B construction, non-combustible construction. The problem is, II B construction is only good 55 feet, not 160 or anything higher."

Construction is set to break ground any day now that Corcoran has issued his approval. Gilmore said the airport board is considering taking action against the construction with the safety of local pilots in mind.


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