At Wednesday night’s , Northampton Township solicitor Michael Savona gave residents an update on where the township stood in its fight against American Tower Corporation (ATC) installing 60 small cell towers on residential properties throughout Northampton.
The township has filed papers in U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia requesting a judge rule that ATC’s 60 Distributed Antenna System (DAS) units mounted on poles should be classified as cell towers.
If classified as cell towers, the United States Telecommunications Act would allow township zoning ordinances to designate where the DAS units could be placed, Savona said. In Northampton, an ordinance states cell towers can not be installed within 300 feet of a residence.
Last week, when the township pulled ATC’s work permit, the company complied and immediately stopped all work, Savona said. The township did not encounter any problems with ATC crews.
Days after the permit was revoked, ATC filed a motion in Bucks County Court in Doylestown stating that Judge Wallace Bateman find Northampton in contempt of the previous legal ruling in which the township lost.
ATC has requested the court to issue a peremptory judgment allowing its crews to resume work on the pole and fiber optic cable installation, which is more than halfway completed, according to court documents. The company contends that because they have been approved as a public utility by the state they should be able to continue to work in the public right-of-way.
“Being a public utility doesn’t exempt you from every township regulation,” Savona stated, referring to the fact that ATC has violated numerous township codes over the course of the project.
Savona said the township’s legal position is different than the stance it took during its previous 2011 legal battle with ATC.
“The positions we are taking up now were never raised during the litigation last year,” the solicitor said.
Members of the township’s legal team have met with officials in Harrisburg to discuss the legal ramifications of Northampton’s fight and how other townships facing similar problems in the state can learn from this.
Going forward, Northampton will work to improve its ordinances to make sure this cannot happening again, Savona said. Aside from ATC, there are nearly 20 other companies that install DAS systems, Chairman Frank Rothermel added.
Janet Swenson, one of the first residents to raise issue with the installation of the poles, thanked the board for listening to residents and for its current transparency with the legal filings.
“The people should give themselves a round of applause,” resident Bill O’Neill said. He also praised Savona for his work in fighting ATC.
A new group - Citizens of Northampton Township Against Cell Towers (CONTACT) - has been formed by a group of residents.
Through attorney David Truelove, CONTACT has filed a petition to intervene with the court and fight ATC alongside the township, according to a release.
Savona said he supports the residents' decision to hire an attorney and has been in contact with Truelove to bring him up to speed.
As of Thursday morning, no court dates have been set.