Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Westfield Leader 10/18/2007

Applicants Propose Cell Tower In Cranford on WF Border

Specially Written for The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Times

CRANFORD — A standing-room only crowd attended Monday night’s Cranford planning board meeting as Cranford and Westfield residents came out to protest a proposed 130-foot cell-phone tower at the Cranford Swim Club, a three-acre area bordering Westfield.

Property values, danger to wildlife, health issues and aesthetics were among the concerns residents voiced.

Engineer Daniel Collins, speaking on behalf of the applicants – Verizon Wireless, Omnipoint Communications, AT&T (formerly Cingular Wireless) and Sprint – gave testimony regarding radiofrequency compliance. According to his calculations, the worst-case scenario of radiofrequency emissions from the monopole is approximately seven-tenths of 1 percent of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) limit. He said the proposed cell tower is 141 times below the FCC limit.

Board attorney David Weeks said since the applicants comply with FCC standards, the board could not turn down the application on that reason alone. Nevertheless, residents spoke after the testimony to ask questions.

Kurt Krause of 20 Pittsfield Street in Cranford asked about the potential hazard to migrating birds flying into the structure, considering the approximate 150-foot proximity of the wetlands and string of county parks. “There are towers that can cause problems with birds, but they are 300-foot towers,” said Mr. Collins. “There is no affect on animals.”

Verizon Wireless, Omnipoint Communications, AT&T and Sprint seek variances in their joint application for the tower. According to the application, the tower is 60 feet over allowable height restrictions. A 14-foot setback from the property line for the monopole and a 15-foot setback from the property line for the equipment compound, and a 13-foot setback for the side property line, are under the required 35 feet and 62.8 feet, respectively, in Cranford’s building codes. The equipment compound is 145 square feet greater than the maximum 200 square feet permissible under Cranford’s regulations.

Civil engineer Anthony Suppa presented site plans for the applicants that showed the tower at 246 feet from the nearest house in Westfield and 378 feet from the nearest residence in Cranford. However, he said, it is 30 feet from the first property line in Westfield, 13 feet from the parking lot of the Cranford Swim Club and 25 feet from the first property line in Cranford. He said Omnipoint would occupy the lowest point on the monopole at 100 feet.

The tree level in the area is about 75 to 85 feet, and cell towers must have clearance of trees in order for the signal to extend to its customers, Mr. Suppa said, adding that a tower on County Park Drive would service less than a one-mile radius. A fifth carrier, Metro PCS, recently expressed interest in affixing a cell to the tower. The board said Metro PCS would have to schedule a separate hearing, as the board was already hearing the current application.

In addition to the tower, an eightfoot- high, fenced-in area would contain equipment shelters for each carrier, totaling the project at 2,800 square feet. The applicants said a 12-foot-wide access road extending from the swim club’s parking lot would be necessary for maintenance trucks to pass through every four to six weeks per carrier.

Verizon Wireless also would maintain a 225-gallon diesel-fueled generator, which it would run once a week for a half hour during normal business hours. Mr. Suppa said the noise level is 65 decibels, likened to the sound of a clothes dryer running in the next room.

Tree removal would be necessary to build the equipment area; Mr. Suppa said planting new trees in other areas is an option.

Residents also inquired about the county beautification laws, which stipulate that homeowners along County Park Drive cannot have driveways or walkways to the front door. Mr. Suppa had no comment on this matter. The applicants’ attorney, Gregory Meese, said earlier during the hearing, “The county had no comments on the application.”

The board will continue the hearing on Monday, December 10.