June 24, 2010

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Cell phone antennas get initial OK for Chestnut Hill Tower

Plans by cell phone provider T-Mobile to install nine additional cell phone panel antennas at the Hill Tower apartment building, 400 East Mermaid Lane, were approved June 15 by the Development Review Committee

The firm’s original proposal, which called for the installation of a 90-foot “monopole” behind the nearby Rite Aid pharmacy to support an antenna array, was a sticking point in getting DRC support when it was presented to the committee in January

The new plan will use the Hill Tower apartment building as the structure needed to provide the antennas with the height necessary for their operation, but the number of proposed panel antenna units remains the same.

Attorney Melissa Rigney, representing T-Mobile, explained that the suggestions made by the board during company’s initial appearance were carefully considered in drafting the proposal now before the committee.

“[T-Mobile] reviewed their network, trying to see what changes could be made, and found a way that this particular building could fit in the network as well as cover its coverage objectives,” she told the committee.

Some of the new antennas will be installed on existing mounts on top of the building. No construction is planned for the ground floor level, as all equipment cabinets will remain on the roof with the antennas.

Committee members expressed concern about the amount of radiation coming off the antenna equipment.

“What measures are taken to make sure that these signals are not going back into the building?” committee co-chair Greg Woodring asked.

Rigney referred to the applicant’s engineer Bryan Grebis, who explained that the energy beams emitted by the panel antennas were tightly focused and aimed away from the building.

“It’s not projecting into anybody’s window – it’s not beamed at anyone,” he said. “And by the time it gets 100 to 300 feet away, you’re usually well-within the maximum permissible exposure the FCC [allows] for.”

Questions about the intensity of the energy being emitted by the antennas were also answered by Grebis, who explained that the equipment’s capacity was limited.

“In a worst case scenario,” he said, “the maximum energy output [of all nine panel antennas] would be 200 to 500 times lower than the FCC’s existing guidelines for maximum exposure.”

While committee members and neighbors were satisfied that the antennas would not pose a risk to residents of the building or people on the ground, some expressed concern that more antennas would be coming in the future.

“Down the road, is it going to be something more”? asked one concerned resident. “How many more are going to be there”?

Rigney explained that placement of the antennas was limited by both the workable roof area and the relative elevation. She said the panel antennas “need to operate at different elevations so that they don’t interfere with one another.”

She said there were only seven carriers in this market and referred to a Sprint installation that had once been stationed on the roof but had since become obsolete and had been removed.

Compared to the previous plan, the committee agreed with the neighbors that this was a good compromise. They voted to support it and send it on to the CHCA board.

A request by Dan Compton, owner of a private home at 15 East Mermaid Lane, for a zoning variance that would allow him to reduce the size of his backyard from the required 20 feet to 13 feet, was sent to the CHCA Executive Board for approval, with the condition that the owner provide the board with signatures of all surrounding neighbors before the board’s June meeting.

Compton’s architect Kent Purdy claimed that the project would actually reduce the amount of impervious coverage on the site.

The reduced back-yard would accommodate a 240-square-foot addition on the rear of the Compton house. Compton’s intention is to construct a first-floor bedroom suite that would allow his home to be occupied entirely on the ground floor level.

There are three neighbors adjacent to this property whose approval the committee wanted to hear from before granting support for zoning relief. Purdy was only able to produce one statement of support from the property owner at 11 Mermaid Lane. The other two, he said, are pending.

According to Compton, his home was built in 1976. It’s clustered among four other homes built shortly thereafter in the 1980s and early 90s. None of the other homes have expanded beyond their original footprints.

Woodring urged the property


owner to reach out to the commercial strip across the road from the applicant’s home.

“They have a right to go to the Zoning Hearing Board,” he said.

Larry McEwen, the other committee co-chair, said he was not inclined to grant support for the variance in the absence of proof that there was no objection from any neighbor.

“I’m inclined to be supportive as long as the other neighbors are on board,” said Jean McCourbrey.

The committee voted unanimously to send the project on to the board for a vote in support of the variance, provided the applicant presents the executive board with signatures of all surrounding neighbors 24 hours before its June meeting.



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