West Chester to regulate cell towers

As part of a package of zoning resolution amendments that got a first read Tuesday, West Chester Twp. trustees voted in favor of moving the process along to restrict the location, size and appearance of cellphone towers in residential areas.

“As a general rule townships cannot regulate public utilities through zoning,” attorney Austin Musser told the trustees earlier this month. “There is a narrow exception to that prohibition which relates to communications towers in residential districts, those can be regulated.”

The proposed zoning amendments indicate a free-standing cell tower can be no taller than five feet, unless other utility poles are in the area then the maximum height is 25 feet or the height of the other poles whichever is shorter. In areas where the utilities are buried cellphone systems must also go underground. Towers also cannot be installed within 100 feet of a home.

“In areas where overhead utilities exit, the telecommunications provider shall first make every effort to co-locate on an existing pole or structure,” the amendment reads. “If it is proven this cannot be accomplished, the provider shall install a stealth tower or pole of satisfactory aesthetic design and material.”

There are many kinds of stealth towers — some are disguised as trees and others look like parts of buildings, for example.

The township is essentially copying neighboring Liberty Twp., who instituted similar protections after Cincinnati Bell tried to install a 36 foot tower in one resident's yard.

In early December when Cincinnati Bell's contractors came to dig up Mike Tsirelis yard for a tower, he stood on the patch of grass that had been spray painted as the spot for five hours, refusing to budge until someone from the county engineer's office returned his calls.

The utility company did back down, and on May 19, zoning amendments in Liberty Twp. took effect that will prevent the same thing from happening again.

West Chester Trustee Board President Mark Welch said they have been working cooperatively with Cincinnati Bell about the location of cell towers and they have already agreed to bury utilities where there aren’t overhead lines.

“We’ve had some contact with them because they want to put towers up let’s say in the Union Centre Blvd. area,” Welch said. “This is a utility, so with the exception of residential areas, they can pretty much do whatever they want to do. But they work with us.”

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