Friday, November 2, 2007

Cranford Chronicle 11/02/2007

State: Proposed Cell Tower Threatens Historic Park

Friday, November 02, 2007

CRANFORD - A controversial proposal to construct a cell tower on County Park Drive would negatively impact the nearby Rahway River Parkway Historic District, according to a letter from the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office.

The opinion does not carry regulatory authority, and a representative for Verizon Wireless, the lead member of a coalition of cell phone companies hoping to build the tower on the grounds of the Cranford Swimming Club, said the companies are in talks with the state office about how to address the concerns.

Still, the letter may carry some weight with the local Board of Adjustment, which began a hearing on the proposal on Oct. 15. And it is likely to add to the concerns of residents, who were out in force at that hearing and are expected to come out again when the hearing resumes Dec. 10.

The application to build a 130-foot monopole and 2,760-square foot equipment compound has been put forward by Verizon Wireless, Sprint Mobile, AT& T and Omnipoint, a branch of T-Mobile. The companies say they need the tower to fill a gap in coverage, but residents in Cranford and Westfield have expressed concern about the impact the pole would have on property values.

Residents say it would be an unsightly addition to the neighborhood and, though radiation from the antennas would fall well below federal guidelines, they argue it would create health concerns.

The club is located near county-owned Lenape Park, part of the Rahway River Parkway Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in September 2002.

In the June 1 letter, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Dorothy P. Guzzo said it is the applicant's "obligation to consider ways to avoid, reduce, or mitigate the effects of the project." "The project will have an adverse effect on the Historic District," Guzzo wrote. "Please note that this is not a close call. Setting is an integral part of the park experience."

The letter echoes objections from County Freeholder Chairwoman Bette Jane Kowalski, who said previously she is "not in favor of permitting anything that obstructs the view from a Union County park."

An employee in the local Zoning Office said the Historic Preservation Office cannot deny the application itself, though Guzzo's letter will be considered when the Board of Adjustment issues its ruling.

Federal law generally gives municipalities little leeway to ban construction of cell towers, though zoning boards can guide their placement.

When the hearing continues on Dec. 10, a professional planner and radio frequency expert are expected to testify.

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