Permission Granted To Build Cell Tower
A federal judge handed Verizon a victory Wednesday to build a cell tower on property in Monroe County.
U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani ordered the Smithfield Township Board of Supervisors to grant Verizon its permit to construct a 95-foot-tall cell tower in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, agreeing with the country’s largest telecom provider that “at every turn” the board's “reasons for denying Verizon’s application [in 2017] with respect to the ‘general’ requirements are not supported by substantial evidence.”
In his summary judgment ruling, Judge Mariani wrote that he couldn't identify “any specific objective requirements” in the town’s ordinance that the board was imposing on Verizon. Moreover, the provisions prescribing the general requirements pertaining to the health, safety and general welfare of the neighborhood are not clearly expressed or defined, he added.
“The board’s decision is entirely unclear as to which ordinance provisions specifically were not met by Verizon and why,” the judge said. “The board did not, at any point in its decision, clearly set forth the conflicting evidence for a particular issue, explain what weight it assigned specific evidence, which evidence it rejected and why, or explain its rationale for the legal conclusions it reached as it was required to do under the substantial evidence standard.”
When the board issued its written decision in July 2017, it found that the property the telecom provider entered a lease agreement with to erect the cell tower was too close to Stroudsburg–Pocono Airport. It cast doubt on Verizon's assertion that the tower would shore up coverage in the area and was concerned the project would tank property values.
The town’s planning commission had previously reviewed and recommended that the permit be approved on the condition that Verizon complies with the township engineer’s request to produce a safety engineer report for the project. The company would also have to confirm there would be no interference with planes, helicopters and sky-diving activities in the area.
Judge Mariani wrote that the board reached its decision based on speculation that the proposed tower would be detrimental to locals without any actual evidence.
While the ordinance requires that the board must take the welfare of locals into consideration, the court couldn't find any language in the ordinance that “expressly placed the burden” on Verizon to prove the tower wouldn't harm them.
Counsel for the parties did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Verizon is represented by Richard M. Williams and Lars Henry Anderson of Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn PC.
The Smithfield Township Board of Supervisors is represented by Ronold J. Karasek of Karasek Law Offices.
The case is Northeast Pennsylvania SMSA LP v. The Smithfield Township Board of Supervisors, case number 3:17-CV-1521, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
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--Editing by Amy Rowe.