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Updated 46 minutes ago
The Hempfield Board of Supervisors will send their solicitor to “protect their interests” at a meeting over a cell tower proposed for one supervisor's land, and appear to be siding against their colleague.
The Zoning Hearing Board, whose members are appointed by the elected board of supervisors but otherwise act independently, will continue hearing testimony March 14 on a 199-foot-tall cell tower proposed for land owned by Supervisor John Silvis off Baltzer Meyer Pike.
The supervisors voted 4-0 Monday, with Silvis abstaining, to have Solicitor Scott Avolio attend the meeting on their behalf. Chairman Doug Weimer said Avolio is being asked to cross-examine Verizon's witnesses on the supervisors' behalf and press the company to demonstrate whether they really need an exception from the township's rules prohibiting new cell towers from being built less than two miles from existing towers.
“We feel the two-mile minimum should be upheld,” Weimer said. “Verizon wants to provide a service in that area. ... They say there's a hardship, but I don't know if they've really done their due diligence.”
The proposed tower on Silvis's land would be 1.5 miles from an existing tower near Youngwood, and 1.6 miles from another tower to the north where Verizon already has antenna equipment. The zoning board had turned down a tower proposed for another parcel nearby in 2014 because, they said, Verizon didn't show they couldn't cover the gap by renting space on the existing towers for new antennas.
The company's application for the zoning exception still showed gaps in cellular coverage in the area around Ft. Allen Elementary School, but the zoning board requested that Verizon hire an independent firm to review their coverage analysis and provide a second opinion on whether the new tower is needed.
“The township will want to cross-examine the expert, to ask him why they (Verizon) think that exception should be granted,” Weimer said.
Resident Scott Graham, a neighbor of the Silvis property organizing some of the opposition to the tower proposal, stood up during the public comment period of the supervisors' meeting and said they had the power to make recommendations to the zoning board.
Graham then asked whether each member of the board would go on the record Monday night to state their opposition or support for the proposal, but they demurred and said they would send Avolio to represent their interests at the March 14 hearing. In his comments at the end of the meeting Monday, Silvis repeated what he'd said at last month's meeting after Graham demanded his resignation:
“I love Hempfield and the people who live in Hempfield, and I would do nothing to harm either one,” he said.
Officials at the state ethics commission said there didn't appear to be a conflict of interest in Verizon seeking an exception for a tower on Silvis's land, since Silvis wouldn't have a vote on the independent zoning board's decision. Any proposed payments to Silvis, either for the consideration of his land or a lease if the tower is approved, were redacted from the contract included in the zoning application packet.
Former township manager Rob Ritson, who is running for a seat on the board, said the supervisors could act as intervenors in the zoning board proceedings, especially when it came to defending the township's overall development plans and regulations.
“The township supervisors have every right to fight for your vision of the township,” he said.
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