Friday, October 19, 2007

Cranford Chronicle 10/19/2007

Swim club cell tower plan draws residents' ire

Friday, October 19, 2007

CRANFORD - More than 100 area residents turned out Monday night, as the Zoning Board of Adjustment began a hearing on an application by a cooperative of four cellular carriers for a 130-foot monopole and a 2,760 square foot equipment compound at the Cranford Swimming Club. A final decision on the proposal may be announced when the hearing is continued in December.

The application seeks a total of seven variances to construct the monopole tower on grounds owned by the private swim club on County Park Drive, near the Westfield border. The tower would host antennae for Verizon Wireless, Sprint Mobile, AT& T and Omnipoint, a branch of T-Mobile.

At Monday's meeting, residents from both Cranford and Westfield turned out to object to the project, though at least one person in the crowd spoke in favor of the proposal.

Greg Meese, attorney for the applicant, said that all four carriers had scoured the surrounding area for over a year, looking for a site to build a cell tower. "Because of the needs of the carriers, this really is an appropriate area," he told the board.

At the meeting, which lasted until almost midnight, a radio frequency compliance expert and the site engineer offered testimony in favor of the proposal and were peppered with questions by audience members.

At times the questions grew raucous, and board Chairman Robert Hellenbrecht at one point threatened to have an audience member removed after an outburst turned into a heated exchange over procedure with board Attorney David Weeks.

Daniel Collins of Pinnacle Telecom Group testified that the application was significantly below Federal Communication Commission guidelines for radio frequency exposure.
"The facility at this site will be in compliance with the federal standards by a factor of 140," Collins said.

Still, residents voiced concern. Jack Schubert of Westfield, who said his home is directly next to the swim club, asked how much protection he would be afforded to neighbors. "The other part of the question is how many times has the government been wrong?" he asked to a thunderous applause.

Collins answered that while the government is not infallible, radio technology was not new and the standards had been updated over time.

Anthony Suppa, the site plan engineer, said the proposal would place the tower in the northwest corner of the swim club's three-acre property. That would leave it 246 feet from the nearest home in Westfield and 378 feet from the nearest home in Cranford.

Board Vice Chairman Jeffrey Pistol asked Suppa what the risk be if someone scaled the fence and was able to actually touch the monopole. Suppa responded that there would be no risk, because all of the wires from equipment would be run underground and then fed through the monopole up to the antennae. He added that the tower and the equipment compound would be surrounded by an eight-foot chain link fence, and all of the components would be equipped with a silent alarm linked to the transmission station.

Pistol persisted, asking what kind of response time could be expected when the alarm is tripped, especially in cases of illicit activity. Suppa said the response would depend on each carrier, but could take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, a comment that drew gripes from the audience.

Questioning Suppa, Cranford resident Rita LaBrutto asked how much space would be required in a residential area for a monopole tower. "What if I want one?" she asked. However, Meese interjected, saying that Suppa would not be the witness to question on the matter.

In turn, LaBrutto said the swim club was in a residential area and allowing a cell tower could set a dangerous precedent. Hellenbrecht responded, saying that any such case would have to be presented to the board and would be considered on its own merits.

The site also sits near Lenape Park, a county park that includes a detention basin. Speaking about the proximity to the park, Meese said the applicant had received a letter from county officials saying they had no comment on the proposal.

However, on Wednesday Freeholder Chairwoman Bette Jane Kowalski said she had "not received information about this proposed cell tower."

"I am not in favor of permitting anything that obstructs the view from a Union County park," Kowalski said.

She added that the freeholders are "definitely going to weigh in on this." County spokesman Sebastian D'Elia said the freeholders are currently "exploring their legal options" with respect to the proposal.

The hearing will be continued on Dec. 10, when a professional planner and another radio frequency expert are expected to testify. At the conclusion of testimony, members of the public will be allowed to comment.

Leslie Murray is a staff writer for the Chronicle. She can be reached at (732) 396-4205 or