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New Towers to be Installed in Pole-less Neighborhoods, Residents Furious

A private company began working on new towers that will increase cellular service in the community in early April, but some residents weren't even aware there was work scheduled for their own properties.

An international company has stepped into Northampton and they're bringing big changes with them.

The American Tower Corporation (ATC) is an "independent owner and operator of wireless and broadcast communication sites," according to its website. After a legal battle with the township, ATC has been granted permission to update or install 59 new towers in the area. And, officials said, there's nothing else that can be done to stop them.

How it began

Last year, ATC came to the township requesting to install Distributed Antenna System (DAS) towers to improve telecommunication conditions in the area. A DAS tower connects to fiber optic cables that wireless service providers and other companies can then rent space on to provide better coverage.

The township decided that ATC was not allowed to install the towers it requested because they did not fit into the right-of-way ordinance, which allows for utilities to be placed along public streets and other areas of easement. 

ATC sued the township in late 2011 and on Jan. 5, 2012, Judge Wallace Bateman decided in ATC's favor due to a certificate of approval it received from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) in 2008. The PUC's recognition allows the company to install the systems and equates its status to that of a utility, Township Solicitor Michael Savona said.

"We did believe we had a valiant case," Township Manager Bob Pellegrino said.

The township decided not to appeal the decision – partly because supervisors were advised they would lose and partly because ATC agreed to pay the township's previous legal fees. That allowed ATC to move ahead with a time-specific agreement it had previously made with T-Mobile, Savona said.

It seemed like the best way to resolve a bad situation, township officials agreed, until residents started finding white circles on their lawns and paper hangers on their doors. 

Building in a no-pole zone

Janet Swenson became aware of something going on when she found a spray-painted circle on her lawn on April 5 and inquired about it to a Verizon worker in her neighborhood.

He didn't know anything about it – it was not his project – but he knew what it indicated: a pole was going in there, Swenson said. 

She called the township, who put her through a series of connections where she finally confirmed the pole with ATC headquarters in North Carolina. All of this before she received notice at her own home. Swenson's neighborhood, Willow Greene South, is supposed to prohibit poles, lights and sidewalks by deed, she said. 

Twelve days after she noticed the circle on her lawn, Swenson received a letter from ATC verifying the company would be "upgrading and/or adding utility poles as necessary" to "enhance wireless services reception and data speeds."

Her communication with company and township officials informed her that the new poles are a done deal; the battle had been fought and they had no further control.

What's coming?

Of the 59 poles being constructed or updated in Northampton, 12 are brand new steel poles in residential areas where there are no other towers of their kind. 

Many of those residents are opposed to the towers going in because of health and property value concerns. 

"How utterly disappointed I am with my township, its supervisors and all others who have chosen to keep the residents in the dark as to what is going on," Swenson said. "My property value will decrease, my health may be impacted, my pristine yard will be marred and if this ATC company can get free rein in our neighborhood, who or what is next?"

However, the Federal Communications Act of 1996 states in 332(c)(7)(B)(iv) that no state or local government body can regulate poles based on "the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission's regulations concerning such emissions."

Resident Ed Tucker pointed out, to the supervisors agreed with him, "You wouldn't want a pole sitting out front of your door."

He also asked if there was something that could be done to the poles going in, like attaching light fixtures to make them more useful to neighborhood residents. Chairman Frank Rothermel agreed it was a good idea and worth looking into.

"I think that we can stop it," Holland resident Len Dubas said. "I think we can be precedent for other people around the country that don't want these people."

Residents said the township still should've given them the opportunity to join the fight.

"I really think that some more thought should've been put into this before you settled," Holland resident Mike Hughes said. "You should've notified the community and notified the residents. You did it to us. You kept us in the dark on this." 

Supervisor Eileen Silver said she didn't find out that residents were upset about it until it was too late.

"The lack of transparency on this project by the township is truly disturbing," Swenson said. 

To find out where the poles are going in, visit www.americantower.com and type in your zip code.

Lil Boysen May 05, 2012 at 04:32 PM
I do not live in Northampton, but all who love liberty and freedom, FIGHT!!!
Kris May 06, 2012 at 02:55 AM
What can the residents do?
Kris May 06, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Please tell your neighbors, pass out flyers, most people don't know this is happening! Spread the word!
Richboro Neighbor May 06, 2012 at 04:31 PM
The Pa. Court of Common Peas (in Shenandoah Mobile v. Cumberland Co. 9/2004) has held that a Cell Tower/Pole is taxable for real estate tax purposes. Northeastern localities have assessed these towers/poles at very high levels (some at a "presumed" value of $300,000. each) to discourage them being installed. What has Northampton assessed them at for Real Estate Tax purposes? Cell tower installers would think twice about installing poles if they had to pay $4,000@ year Real Estate Tax on each installation.
Richboro Neighbor May 06, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Let our Supervisers know that we want these wireless transmission poles assessed at high levels for Real Estate Tax purposes. The Pa. Courts have held that transmission poles are considered Real Property for R/E Tax purposes. If an transmission pole owner had to pay $4000. @ year Real Estate Tax on each pole we wouldn't have many poles being installed. 60 poles = $240,000. per year R/E Tax.
Hillcrestshire May 07, 2012 at 05:49 AM
There should be no poles - period. The ones which have been installed should be removed as soon as possible. Once our neighborhoods and township decline through these government actions/inaction, no amount of tax revenue will be able to replace what is lost. In the future, not many people will choose to move into Northampton, if they can go to Central Bucks, New Hope, Upper Makefield , and Wrightstown areas. Those areas will continue to develop similar to what type Northampton had in the 70s and 80s, and will lose with the permanent presence of these towers. People will find what Northampton lost somewhere else close by, but not Northampton. No cell towers!
Richboro Neighbor May 07, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Hello Hillcrestshire...you are 100% correct....there should be no poles-period. Obviously, we all agree with you on that point. Any ideas on how to stop them? Meeting with our elected "representatives" isn't going to work. All of them (Rs and Ds alike) have taken millions of dollars in political contributions from Telecommunications Companies and supporting wireless companies over the concerns of residents is the one thing that they can agree on. Richboro Neighbor
Outraged Resident May 07, 2012 at 01:08 PM
This is an absolute outrage. These poles are 25 feet high. There are no other poles, utility or otherwise, in our neighborhood. All wires are underground in our area, and now, these EYESORES will ruin our lovely neighborhood. We pay taxes in excess of $8K per year and were not even given the courtesy of knowing this was occurring. Closed door meetings. Greased palms. All business as usual in crooked Nothampton Township. It's time to fight back residents!!!
Tom Sofield May 07, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Here is Patch's story on last night's community meeting about the poles: http://northampton.patch.com/articles/towers-begin-to-be-installed-neighbors-outraged
Hillcrestshire May 07, 2012 at 05:51 PM
In my opinion, the only way to stop and undo this action is by generating more influence - at least equal to or preferably more than the influence they generated to ensure a favorable outcome for themselves, with the township quietly backing down and the county court ruling in ATC's favor. The Chairman said they can't be removed once they're up. That's political BS, him trying to balance what they already discussed with ATC and the residents concerns at the same time. There are lawyers everywhere, and he'll find the ones he needs to make his opinion/statements sound like the only reasonable, legal option (and BSing us that there's a consensus legally) - hoping we can't afford different lawyers nor get more backing to be a greater influence. Remember, the Chairman and those associated with him are considering different outcomes than us. We just want them gone. They are constantly making political calculations. They might say it's a different world, etc, etc, but that's in their I-want-to-maintain-political-power world, not the one thousands of homeowners live in. It's all about influence - getting enough backing (financial, legal, media, etc) to effectively influence and ensure our favorable outcome. I'd rather see my money go to fight this, then have our property values and beautiful neighborhoods decline, and not be where they should be compared to with how that will change with the towers. Don't trust anyone, when we know what's right for Northampton.
Russian May 07, 2012 at 07:39 PM
But we all using cellphones, right? That is why they are building them. Same as we all eating heavily processed food and getting sick overtime. Stop doing it and they will back off, they will not spend money building them if less people using hazardous cellphones or eating their processed junk food.
Kris May 07, 2012 at 08:14 PM
So if I never use a cell phone again, they won't build one near me?
Kris May 07, 2012 at 08:20 PM
There are construction trucks on New Road making a lot of noise. I do not know what type of work they are doing, I did not see a sign on the trucks when I passed them. Right near the local elementary school too!
Michael B May 08, 2012 at 02:22 PM
I just returned home from a business trip and caught the last supervisor's meeting on TV last night and was shocked when I learned about the tower/pole situation. My wife didn't know anything about it either, so we then viewed the pictures of the ugly pole and wires on the Northampton Patch website. When we saw the last picture showing the full length of the pole, and how it devalued the look of the home and the surrounding landscaping, we then realized why residents were so upset. This is simply a disgrace! It is both an abuse, and a manipulation, of outdated utility right of way agreements. 25 foot poles should never be erected on someone's front lawn without their approval. Poles should be phased out with the advancement of today's technology. We should be moving forward, not backwards! I can't believe that the board would have thought that residents would be okay with this. What were they thinking? Also, I can't believe that anyone that lives in Northampton township would find this acceptable! What country do you think we are living in when a company, which is not even a utility company, can manipulate the system, obtain a court order, and come to your home and deface your property value with impunity? Maybe we should erect one of these poles on the judge's home that approved these poles, and see if that changes his perspective. The poles are not on my property, but my wife and I will join the fight because this is simply wrong.
Vincent J. Deon May 08, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Frank Rothermel jammed this through his solicitor. Very sad. Very chilling what a little money will buy. ATC paid the legal bill so the supervisors pulled down our pants!
A. Huff May 09, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Mr. Deon, your remarks might be true, but you decided with the rest of the supervisor not to inform the public during your tenure. So you are just taking a political cheap shot and were part of the problem.
Richboro Neighbor May 10, 2012 at 01:05 PM
these guys are all on the take
Richboro Neighbor May 10, 2012 at 01:11 PM
There is no mystery here. Wireless Cos. give millions of dollars in political contributions to both Rs and D's. Whoever gets elected Governor (doesn't matter wether R or D) is owned by Wireless co. Governor appoints political hacks to PUC. Since PUC members are appointed by Governor, they owe their own jobs to Wireles Cos. and approve rate hikes, cell towers/poles, etc. (including calling ATC a Public Utility so they can do whatever they want in the right of way) JUST FOLLOW THE MONEY! Richboro Neighbor
Richboro Neighbor May 14, 2012 at 08:50 PM
The PUC is made up of 5 political hacks, appointed by Republicans AND Democrats who have taken millions in political Contributions (aka PAYOFFS) from the wireless companies. How are you gonna' fight that??
Jerrold S. Bass May 14, 2012 at 09:37 PM
To Richboro neighbor, You fight by building a strong non political coalition of neighbors who have one goal in mind. GET RID OF THE TOWERS. The local p[olitics can come at another time. When you have a goal and a passion and believe you are in the right,you fight not complain. Get your facts first, unfortunately most controversial issues such as this are frequently driven by a few people who know little of what they speak. Learn the facts. Go to the Township building, obtain an open records form and ask for copeis of the previous boards recommendation to appeal to a higher court. This was overlooked by tyhe cuurrent administratio, as adimtted by FRANK ROTHERMEL to the press at Pattie Sextons home. People may not all agree on this issu, but most do. Fight the fight never give up untile the end.
Richboro Neighbor May 15, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Dear Jerrold...mayne you have time to waste listening to hours of nonsense from our supervisors. The FACTS are that wireless companies political contributions (millions of dollars) have bought and paid for whatever they want from the PUC. Get a clue man!
Jerrold S. Bass May 15, 2012 at 01:27 AM
Dar Richboro neighbor, the issue is not how these events occur but more how to reverse these abuses in the future. This is not Republican or Democrat , this is fightinbg for our rights. I have been in the arena for many years now and am proud of some of the accomplishments my associates an I have accomplished in that time. Northampton Township would not be the great place to live in had people like me just sat on the sidelines and complained. Assuming you are someone who is really concerned, stop complaining and joint the battle. This is a small community and someone armed with facts and is willing to get out front can accomplish much good. I use my name, if you are really concerned come out and dont hide behind an alias.
Alan Lee Litvin May 15, 2012 at 05:08 AM
If Lower Makefield can win, then why couldn't Northampton?
Richboro Neighbor May 15, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Dear Jerrold...sorry, I just didn't realize how wonderful you are. Keep developing your own facts...maybe even you'll start believing them. Richboro Neighbor
A. Huff May 15, 2012 at 12:39 PM
I prefer to look at this from the point of how each party determines their win. Township Supervisor’s win was to try and get recurring revenue out of this. Working with ATC was not in their interest, either was informing the public when they were first approached. They failed American Tower’s win is reducing their long tern costs, they can write off the equipment over 7 years, getting a tax break and then they are home free; no long term leases to pay on expensive cell towers. They are a wholesaler of utility with no public face; they only have a few customers to keep happy like T-Mobile. T-Moble has the most to lose in this; they are the face to the consumer. They have contracted with American Tower to create this service. Negative publicity out front of T-Mobile stores, lawn signs, signs calling attention to the blight of new poles with T-Mobile’s name noted. Put a T-Mobile face to it. I have the right to paint my house any color I want, but that wouldn’t be kind to my neighbors, same with ATC and T-Mobile, they may have a right, but it is not neighborly. If ATC is successful, that means more boxes on existing poles (one for each carrier). What happens when carrier three wants in? Additional poles, or replacing existing poles with larger ones, since we are told these poles can only accommodate two carriers, not a very robust infrastructure.
Hillcrestshire May 16, 2012 at 02:29 PM
A. Huff, Good points. Everyone, keep up the pressure on all fronts!!!!!! Court, ATC, Twp, T-Mobile. It has to become a nightmare for them, especially ATC, Courts, and T-Mobile.
Jerrold S. Bass May 17, 2012 at 04:23 AM
Dear Richboro neighbor, I understand your frustration and mistrust of some public officials, but that, right now is not the issue. The issue is getting rid of the poles. Let us forgoe the sarcasim and in our own spheres of endeavor work toward that end. Northampton is a wonderful place to live and raise our families as I have for 40 years. We didn't get to be this way by accident, we got this way because of contientous leadership over the years. Sometimes mistakes are made and need to be corrected. This is one of those times. As I commented earlier, this is not the time for partisan politics, that will come later. For now LET US, IN OUR OWN WAYS SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS IN THEIR EFFORTS TO STOP THIS INTRUSION.
Robert Butler May 23, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Who will profit from what ATC Outdoor DAS is doing. If it is a mobile phone provider, which one, T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint? If it is an Internet company, which one? If someone in the local government will profit, who? If you want to know who is behind this, then follow the money. When you know who is behind this then use Social Media to bring all the details to light. Tell the world what this is doing to you and your families. Show the world the ugliness of it all. Now encourage people to boycott, write letters, send emails. Remember mobile phone and Internet contracts do expire, and DO NOT have to be renewed with the same provider. You’re not just a home-owner; you are a passionate member of a close and caring community with a great deal of purchasing and political power. Use it! Start now. Facebook about it! Blog about it! Talk about it when you go to the market, when you go to the bank, when you go to church, when you go to the theater, when you go out to eat, when you gather to watch your children play. Launch your own campaign, create your own commercials, and let YouTube broadcast your plight for free. Whatever you do, don’t let anybody tell you that this is a done deal.
Local Resident June 16, 2012 at 04:33 AM
How can I sign a petition?
Jay Riloff August 10, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Dear Bill, ATC is planning to relocate a cell pole in front of my house. I was wondering if you would contact me for information about how I should proceed on stopping this. Thank you for your time and consideration. Jay Riloff email address: jriloff@valensgroup.net

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