Friday, December 14, 2007

The Westfield Leader 12/13/2007

CF WF Residents Hire Lawyer to Oppose Cell Tower


CRANFORD — Opponents of a proposed 130-foot-high cell tower have hired an attorney to fight the proposal, which would be situated at the Cranford Swim Club. Testimony on the application, which the Union County freeholder board also opposes, continued Monday night at a special meeting of the Cranford Zoning Board of Adjustment.

New York SMSA Limited Partnership seeks height and setback variances. During the Cranford zoning board’s meeting in October, the applicant’s attorney, Gregory Meese, said the county did not voice concerns over the proposal to SMSA.

On Monday night, First Deputy County Counsel Norman Albert, also a Cranford resident, stood on the sidelines to wait to question the testimonies heard that evening. About 90 Cranford and Westfield residents opposed to the tower have hired their own attorney, John Schmidt. He said he plans to bring in his own professional planner and radiofrequency consultant to testify before the board.

Civil engineer Anthony Suppa, testifying for the applicant, said that due to an order adopted October 2, cellphone carriers must have an eighthour battery backup at the tower’s equipment shelter. Verizon has a generator; thereby, this order does not apply to them, he said. However, Mr. Suppa said, the other carriers that plan to go on the tower – Sprint, Omnipoint and Cingular – only have about a two- to three-hour backup. They are looking into the eight-hour back up to comply with regulations. Mr. Suppa said the shelter would have no increase in size for the new batteries.

Mr. Meese also introduced Glenn Pierson, a radiofrequency design and engineering consultant. He presented topography maps of each carrier’s coverage area and the increase in coverage the proposed tower would bring. Displaying cell-phone coverage maps, he testified that on average,
each carrier has a gap in coverage from Springfield Avenue to Kenilworth Boulevard, the Chippewa Road neighborhood and from Springfield Avenue to Gallows Hill Road to the south.

Mr. Pierson’s maps of one carrier showed coverage for medium-density buildings, such as brick buildings found at schools, another carrier with coverage for low-density buildings, such as non-stone houses, then another with outdoor or in-vehicle coverage.

“How do we know if there really is a gap?” Board Chairman Robert Hellenbrecht asked. “We’re mixing apples and oranges.” “What is the benefit to our community?” he questioned. Mr. Pierson said the holes in coverage in the area, especially at Cranford High School, Union County College and Nomahegan Park, are “substantial” and could cause a threat in case of an emergency.

Mr. Hellenbrecht said students at the high school are not allowed to use their cell phones. Other residents in the audience interjected that there are emergency practices in place and there are landline phones at the high school.

Later, resident Melanie Graceffo said she found it important for students to have cell-phone service at schools in case of emergencies and asked Mr. Pierson about the potential coverage for all area schools. “This application does not touch schools in the south or east by Orange Avenue,” Mr. Pierson said.

The county and opposition attorneys will have a chance to counter Mr. Pierson’s testimony at the next meeting, scheduled for Monday, January 28, board officials said. Mr. Pierson also listed the other properties the applicant approached for the tower site: Nomahegan Park, Dreyer Farms, Union County College, Fairview Cemetery, Sunrise Assisted Living, Church of Christ Echo Lake, Lenape Park and the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. “We’ve looked at every possible place since 2002,” Mr. Pierson said.

He said Union County College and Dreyer Farms declined to have the cell tower located on their properties. Mr. Albert said he would like to see proof of the sites that said “no,” saying he believed the applicant never approached Dreyer Farms. The board also asked for evidence of the reasons behind those sites that declined the applicant’s request.