I received my ham ticket in 1976. Since then, I have gone QRV from
4 different locations, 3 of which have had towers. I had legal difficulties
with the locals twice.
1. K3QK vs. The City of Pittsburgh
2. K3QK vs. The Town of McCandless
K3QK vs. The City of Pittsburgh
After trying all different types of wire and
vertical antennae, I decided it was time to put up a tower(1978).
All I had to do was decide where, dig the hole, and go to it. Right?
No sooner had I dug the hole, placed the base
and first section in it and plumbed it up, when the building inspector
showed up(seems one of my neighbors had seen what I was up to, took exception
to it, and ANONYMOUSLY called The City of Pittsburgh).
I was told I had to secure a building permit
before proceeding, or face some ridiculous daily fine. Simple, I
thought. Wrong again!
I went to the City Office Building to secure
my permit. I was directed to zoning. They asked me for my plot
plan (what's a plot plan?-end of first trip).
I returned with the plot plan and all papers
properly filled out. "I'm sorry. Our Code (cw?) doesn't permit
towers in a residential area. You'll have to apply for a variance
(what's a variance?-end of second trip)".
I returned again and filed the papers for
the hearing regarding the variance (which, it seems, required the payment
of a NON-REFUNDABLE fee). They gave me a nice placard to post in
front of the house. (3rd trip over)
Some time later, the hearing was held.
Being a fairly intelligent and articulate individual, I represented myself
(no counsel for me-another mistake). I was asked all manner of question
by the zoning hearing board, and in general made to feel completely incompetent
and like a total idiot. I was told they would "take it under advisement"
(this means, I later learned, that even if they had decided immediately,
you had to wait until they were darned ready to let you know WHAT they
After what seemed like 100 years, I got the
official notification from The City of Pittsburgh that they were denying
my request for a zoning variance to erect my amateur radio tower.
So I couldn't put up my tower. Or could I?
Since I had the right to appeal, I decided
to appeal their decision to The Court of Common Pleas. This time,
though, I would be prepared.
With the assistance of another ham (Tom-K3WT
(Tom, where are you now?)), I secured an attorney to represent me.
With his guidance, we came up with a plan (remember, this was BEFORE PRB-1).
-I called the ARRL, and they sent me their "legal packet".
-I secured the permission of my IMMEDIATE (property abutting) neighbors
to erect the tower,
-I drove all over the City of Pittsburgh, camera in hand, and photographed
EVERY tower I
found that violated the City's Code and/or setback requirements.
The appeal was held. The Court of Common
Pleas decided in my favor. The "high and mighty" City of Pittsburgh
either had to issue me a building permit or appeal the decision of
The Court of Common Pleas.
My attorney and I had a meeting with the City
Solicitor. He said, "Why should I issue you a building permit".
I took all the photos out of the illegal towers and laid them on the table.
He said, "What do you want me to do? Cite all the illegal towers
in Pittsburgh?". I nodded my head "yes".
The City of Pittsburgh did not appeal.
They issued my permit.
What did I learn from this experience?
1) Don't put up a tower without trying to secure a building permit.
All it takes to bring your
plans to a screeching halt is one neighbor
who doesn't like towers (and ONE is not hard
to find these days!).
2) If you fail to secure the building permit, file for the zoning
variance, but DON'T, I implore
you, DON'T, represent yourself.
Hire a qualified attorney. See if you can locate a
volunteer counsel through the ARRL.
The money spent is WELL spent. Your attorney
will be professional, not emotional.
The zoning board will treat your attorney with
respect. They are likely to treat
YOU, the taxpayer, like an idiot who doesn't know what
is talking about. My attorney's
fees for the experience above were $700.00(some 20
years ago), but were well worth it.
Government officials will bully and harass the
average amateur, even if it is illegal
(see my next adventure-they did it to me even
though I WAS represented by counsel).
3) Do your homework. Get the legal packet from the
ARRL. Scour the web for legal
precedents that will bolster your case.
Pay your local zoning office for a COMPLETE
copy of the local zoning ordinance.
Gather all your "ammunition" before applying for
that building permit, even if you may
not need it later.
K3QK vs. The Town of
Some years later (1990), I moved to a suburb north
of Pittsburgh. My interest in amateur
radio was low, and I had been QRT for several years. I had, however,
inquired whether there
were any conditions, covenants, and restrictions regarding antennas
before we had
purchased the house (there were none). I had also asked the Town
if towers were permitted
before we purchased the house (they WERE permitted).
Fast forward to 1994. I had been cleaning
out the garage and noticed the tower, rotor, and
antenna sitting there. I decided to get a building permit.
Armed with my plot plan, I paid a visit to
Town Hall. They were very cordial. One of the
Councilmen even located my tower on the plot plan for me. I was
told to re-locate the tower
per his instructions and return with the new plot plan (end of first
Being so armed, I returned. I was told
to get the stamp from the Sanitary Authority so there
would be no encroachment on underground sewer lines (end of second
After getting the stamp, I returned to Town
Hall, paid my $50.00, and was issued a building
permit for a "amateur radio antenna support" (do not call it a "tower"-literature
from the ARRL
suggests calling it a "amateur radio antenna support". They will
call it a "tower" soon enough).
I couldn't believe it! Only 3 trips and I got the building
permit! Surely this was almost too
easy! Was this an omen of bad things to come? Well, yes,
as a matter of fact, it was, but I didn't know it at the time.
I proceeded to dig the hole, concrete the
base, and install the tower over the course of the next several weeks.
So far, so good! The tower was completely erected, and so far no
complaints from the neighbors.
Then came the weekend to install the antenna.
It had taken me a week to assemble the antenna, a 4-element, 5-band quad.
The antenna went up smoothly and worked perfectly! I was home free
I enjoyed my new antenna for 5 days.
The call from the zoning administrator the following Thursday marked the
start of harassment that lasted for 2 years.
Events that transpired were:
-The zoning administrator questioned the size of the antenna and whether
it would strike my next door neighbor's house if it and the tower fell
in total (thanks to my next door neighbor, who was previously my friend);
he ordered a survey that probably cost the township $300.00. The
surveyors blatantly trespassed on my property to try to survey it.
I ordered them to leave and they did. Later I allowed them back on,
and the results of their survey were in error. I had to have my own
survey down, at a cost of $300.00 to ME.
-One of my neighbors sent the police to my home, claiming radio interference
to his telephone. When I asked the officer if it was CORDED or CORDLESS,
he replied "CORDLESS".
-Another neighbor wrote to the local Congressman. As a result,
the FCC paid me a visit.
After inspecting the station, they found it to be in compliance.
-It WAS and IS in compliance, thanks to the local ARRL Technical Coordinator,
who graciously spent much of his time insuring that it WAS in compliance.
That same Technical Coordinator went door-to-door in my neighborhood, offering
to fix any RFI problems for FREE. For his efforts, he had doors slammed
in his face, and neighbors threatened lawsuits against HIM.
-I received numerous anonymous letters from disgruntled neighbors.
-The housing association held a meeting WITHOUT notifying ME, attended
by the Councilman for my ward, the zoning administrator, and the chief
of police. The instigators were putting pressure on the politicians,
asking them what they were going to do about my "tower" (I would not have
attended anyway; this was a vigilante squad).
-I received phone calls from irate neighbors. Answering the phone
with a screaming neighbor on the other end is not pleasant. I never
once raised my voice to any neighbor. To do so would have had me
lowering myself to their level. Many times I was the "culprit" responsible
for the TVI, even though I had not been home all day, or in one case I
was away attending the Dayton Hamvention.
-The uproar over my tower and antenna became a feature article in the
-The township kept coming up with one trumped up charge after another.
They bullied me into having a hearing in front of the Zoning Hearing Board,
claiming that my other next door neighbor's open air concrete patio was
technically a "dwelling", therefore I would have to lower my tower (I had
THIS neighbor's permission for my tower, by the way, IN WRITING.
Also, the $150.00 for the zoning hearing was NON-REFUNDABLE.)
-This time I was better prepared to go in front of The Zoning Hearing
Board. I had retained counsel, and we had done our homework ahead
of time (thanks to the ARRL again for their legal packet). Also,
I had sent out an appeal to all local amateurs, asking them to support
me by attending the hearing (thanks to the 20+ that showed up). The
Zoning Hearing Board decided in my favor, and the township did not appeal.
However, they kept questioning one thing after another:
-The dimensions of the hole for the tower
base were questioned. I had to produce affidavits
from the individuals that helped dig
the hole as to its dimensions (photograph or videotape
every aspect of your tower installation;
you may need the evidence later).
-The strength of the concrete was questioned.
I had to produce the receipt from the concrete
company (if you intend to get the concrete
at your local Home Depot, take note).
-The tensioning of the guy wires was questioned.
Here again, the ARRL was a lifesaver.
Through them, I was able to contact
a Volunteer Consulting Engineer. This gentleman was
kind enough to inspect my tower, and
certify it, FREE OF CHARGE.
Remember, as I said before, this harassment
went on for 2 years. Erecting a tower is NOT for the easily dissuaded
or faint of heart. Every time I satisfied another requirement, they
asked for something else (remember, these are the same folks who had already
issued a building permit).
Finally, the township stopped this haranguing,
but only after one FINAL warning from my attorney.
I have enjoyed my tower and antenna for almost
2 years now without additional harassment. The quad blew apart in
a severe thunderstorm with microburst last year, but has since been replaced
with another one.
What have I learned?
1) Just like the Boy Scouts' motto says: "BE PREPARED"
(I was better prepared this time
than I was the first time).
2) Don't represent yourself; hire a capable attorney. It
is WELL worth the money. Total legal
cost for this venture: permit,
$50.00; zoning hearing, $150.00; survey, $300.00; attorney's
fees, $1000.00; =$1500.00.
3) Once again, assistance from the ARRL was invaluable.
Where else are you going to get
that kind of assistance for $30.00 a
4) Don't assume ANYTHING. I was the "model" neighbor for
4 years before I installed the
tower. Then, all of a sudden,
those who were previously my friends became my enemies.
5) Document EVERYTHING. You never know when you will need
to "prove it".
6) Don't ask your neighbors for permission to erect your tower,
unless you absolutely have to.
I know there will be naysayers out there
on this one. As a homeowner you pay thousands of
dollars in taxes every year. What
it comes down to is property owner's rights. Either you
are legally allowed to install a tower,
or you are not. If you start asking your neighbor's
permission, they start to think you
must have their permission to do a lot of things on your
own property. Pretty soon they
will be telling you what color to paint your house, what
kind of mailbox to install, where to
dump your grass clippings, and where to store your
garbage before it is picked up (you
think I'm kidding? These are common occurrences in
neighborhoods that have CCRs).
7) There is a certain mentality that is pervading our society
today which I refer to as "group
hysteria". That is, just because
the group "against you" may be larger than the "group for
you", they come to the "logical" conclusion
that they are "right", translated to "what they
are doing is legal" (this applies to
local governments as well as neighborhood groups).
Don't believe it for a second.
Legal is legal; illegal is illegal. Stick to your guns!
8) Don't believe anything a township official tells you.
Get EVERYTHING in writing. My
tower sits much closer to my house than
I had originally intended. This is because the
original location was NOT approved.
I was told (by the head of the Zoning Committee)that
I would have to move it, and I DID move
it, because the setback requirement from the rear
property line was 30 feet. Had
I been smart enough to demand to see it in writing, I would
have discovered (much sooner) that the
setback requirement is 15 feet, not 30 as I was told!
9) Don't believe you are causing RFI unless you or someone you
trust sees it with their own
eyes. Electrical devices in my
own home were completely free from RFI before the
Technical Coordinator would give his
stamp of approval to my station. Isn't it interesting
that all of my complaining neighbors
refused entrance to the Technical Coordinator (except
one, and he fixed the problem by attaching
the ground)? As soon as the antenna goes up and
is visible, you are responsible for
problems that you cause with RFI, even when you are not
home and the rig is off. Complaints
of this nature made to local officials usually fall on
sympathetic ears. They are hard
to disprove, except when personal observation is