Saturday, December 1, 2007

Record-Press 11/30/2007

Swim Club Neighbors Angry Over Cell Tower

Friday, November 30, 2007


Cranford - In the quiet stretch of forest that borders Lenape Park, a battle is underway. The fight has been joined between wireless phone companies who say they are trying to meet the growing demand for service, and local residents who say they want to preserve their way of life. Nearly 50 residents from both Westfield and Cranford attended a Cranford Township Committee meeting Tuesday night, asking elected officials there to support strict enforcement of zoning laws.

The application, which will be continued before the Cranford Zoning Board of Adjustment on Dec. 10, is an effort by a cooperative of four phone companies to build a 130-foot monopole tower and a 2,760-square foot equipment compound at the Cranford Swimming Club (CSC) on County Park Drive, on the border with Westfield.

Verizon Wireless, Sprint Mobile, AT& T and Omnipoint, a branch of T-Mobile, say they need the tower to fill a gap in coverage, but residents in the two towns have expressed concern about the impact the pole would have on their health, aesthetics and property values. While the proposal is for a site owned by the CSC, the application is being presented by the phone companies, which would pay a rental fee to the club for the land if the plan is approved.

Kim Ancin, a spokesperson for Verizon Wireless, the lead company in the application, said the location of the proposed tower is about providing the best service as demand for wireless communications increases. The tower location is not selected randomly, Ancin said. "There's a lot of testing that goes on before a site is ever determined," she said.

But that does little to quell the concern of residents, who say the proposed tower would dwarf everything in the area, transforming the feel of their residential neighborhood. Residents said they have hired an attorney to represent their interests as the application proceeds.

On Tuesday night, Joe Muratore of Cranford told the Township Committee he and his wife bought their home on Kenilworth Boulevard because it was nestled between Lenape and Nomahegan parks. The proposed cell tower "doesn't belong in a residential neighborhood," Muratore said.

His wife, Audrey Muratore, made similar statements on a recent day as she and Westfield resident Myron Kesselhaut toured the area behind Kesselhaut's home.
From his back yard, Kesselhaut can clearly see through a chain link fence into the swim club's property. Kesselhaut said when he bought his home 38 years ago he knew he shared a property line with the club, but he fell in love with an expansive backyard and the natural setting that expands to the wooded area behind his home.

Kesselhaut said the original letter notifying residents of the plan left him confused about the tower's proposed location. After obtaining a copy of the project plans, he and a neighbor were able to pinpoint the location, which he says is just 14 feet from his shared property line with the swim club.

During testimony at the first hearing on the proposal in October, witnesses for the phone company said the tower would be nearly 250 feet from Kesselhaut's back door, but he said that does not take into account the 20-foot deck behind his home.
"I feel they're misleading people as to where (the cell tower) is," added Audrey Muratore.

The neighbors say they are also worried that the height of the tower and a planned diesel generator will create safety concerns that could affect their homeowners' insurance policies. What makes them most angry, perhaps, is their belief that the swim club is not being a good neighbor.

"This shows a total disregard for the surrounding neighborhood," Audrey Muratore said. "The only people who are going to do well by this are the people swimming in that pool."

Kesselhaut said he has been willing to accommodate inconveniences, but the proposal for a cell tower crosses the line. "I hear the noise when they play tennis, but I let it go. They often leave the lights on, which doesn't bother me. But when these leaves are down and those lights are on, I don't have to put the lights on in my house," Kesselhaut said. "I don't think this is fair."

Requests for comment from the president of the swim club, Trudy Allen, were not returned this week, and the attorney for the club, Nicholas Giuditta, referred questions to the phone companies' attorney.

Kesselhaut's complaints were echoed Tuesday night, when Westfield residents John and Jenny Schuvart spoke before the Township Committee. Jenny Schuvart suggested that Cranford form a committee to identify desirable locations for cell towers that are outside of residential areas. "There's something lacking when big corporations can come in and dictate what they want and we have to go out and defend our way of life," she said.

Carl Woodward, Cranford's municipal attorney, explained to the crowd that the Board of Adjustment is an autonomous body that operates without direction from the Township Committee. However, he lauded the group's decision to hire an attorney and said a large turn-out could affect the board's deliberations.

Township commissioners are generally discouraged from commenting on pending land-use applications. Of the three commissioners present Tuesday, only George McDonough spoke about his opinion of the application, saying his personal legal counsel had advised him he could address the issue.

McDonough, who recently lost his re-election bid, said he felt compelled to side with residents. "I agree with you, this is not the kind of thing we want to have in a residential neighborhood," he said. "In about four weeks I will be a (private) citizen, and I look forward to joining forces with you," McDonough said to a round of applause.

The residents in the area are not the only ones objecting to the plan. The State Historic Preservation Office has objected to the location because Lenape Park is part of the Rahway River Parkway Historic District. "The project will have an adverse effect on the Historic District," Preservation Officer Dorothy P. Guzzo wrote. "Please note that this is not a close call. Setting is an integral part of the park experience."

A similar objection came from Union County Freeholder Chairwoman Bette Jane Kowalski, who said she is "not in favor of permitting anything that obstructs the view from a Union County park."

When the application is continued on Dec. 10, a professional planner and radio frequency expert are expected to testify before the Board of Adjustment.

Leslie Murray is staff writer for NJN Publishing. She can be reached at (732) 396-4205 or