Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Star Ledger 10/25/2007

Impact of Cell Tower at Issue

Area's Historical Status Troubles State Panel

Thursday, October 25, 2007
Star-Ledger Staff

State historic preservation officials said a planned 130-foot cell tower cannot be built on the grounds of a privately owned swim club in Cranford because the design would have a negative impact on the area's historical status.

Despite the findings by the state Department of Environmental Protection's Natural and Historic Resources, Historic Preservation Office, Verizon Wireless is continuing its effort to obtain the seven variances they will need to build the proposed tower at the Cranford Swimming Club on County Park Drive.

Verizon Wireless is the primary applicant for the tower, which would also be used by Sprint Mobile, AT&T and Omnipoint. The project would also include the construction of a 2,700-square-foot fenced-in equipment area.

However, Dorothy P. Guzzo, deputy state historic preservation officer, said the project "will have an adverse effect" on the Rahway River Park Historic District across the street from the swim club property.

Guzzo's statement was included in a letter dated June 1 to Alana K. Stops of Richard Grubb & Associates, a cultural resource management firm hired by Verizon for the tower project planned for the site adjacent to Union County's Lenape Park .

"When a new cell tower is going to be constructed the proposal re quires a regulatory review by the state historical preservation office," Stops said.

She said her company is hired to do a historic architectural and archaeological study of an area within a half-mile radius of a proposed cell tower site to "see what is going to be impacted."

Based on the firm's report that was submitted to the DEP, the proposed tower in Cranford would have a detrimental impact, according to Guzzo.

Noting that "setting is an integral part of the park experience,' Guzzo told Stops that is your client's obligation to avoid, reduce, or mitigate the effects of the project."

That finding effectively stops the construction of the cell tower for now, DEP Spokeswoman Elaine Makatura said yesterday.

"They need to find a way to negate any adverse impacts. But at this point they can't proceed," she said.

Verizon is currently working with the state Historic Preservation Office to remedy the situation, a company spokesman said yesterday.

"It is in everyone's best interest to work with the state and come to some agreement," the spokesman said.

She said the company will continue to pursue the local variances because even if the state rejects Verizon's plans, it can always appeal that decision to the Federal Communications Commission.

Residents from both Cranford and neighboring Westfield who live in the neighborhood around the swim club expressed their disdain for the tower at an Oct. 15 meeting of the township's zoning board.

Residents expressed concern the structure would ruin the ap pearance of their neighborhood, drive down property values and raise safety issues.

However, experts brought in by the applicant maintained the tower posed no risk to safety as it would be fenced in with wires running underground.

The club's board of governors sent out an e-mail to members shortly before the meeting urging them to attend the session in support of the cell tower. The message explained that revenues generated by the tower would be used to make much-needed repairs and renovations to the facility.

More recently, freeholder chairwoman Betty Jane Kowalski said the county is also against construction of the tower.

"The county is interested in this issue because the cell tower would be right next to Lenape Park, which is part of the county parks system and the freeholders have a responsibility to protect the safety of our residents and our parks," she said.

"Our park system is eligible for historical landmark status and the letter from the state Historical Preservation Office says this will have an adverse impact on the Rahway River Park Historic district," she said.

Kowalski said Lenape Park is extensively used by residents not only of Cranford, but also from Westfield, Mountainside and Kenilworth.

"I am sympathetic to the needs of the Cranford Swimming Club to generate fund to make improvements, but it can't be at the ex pense of the parks and the local residents," Kowalski said.

Robert E. Misseck may be reached at or (908) 302-1507.