Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Star Ledger 1/27/2008

Static Likely at Hearing on Cranford Cell Tower Proposal

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The next step in the controversial proposal to build a cell tower almost double the legal height and with a shorter setback than usual at a private swim club in Cranford is scheduled to take place tomorrow night.

Verizon Wireless will resume its efforts to persuade the zoning board to approve the seven variances it needs to proceed with the project, which has prompted a growing group of residents opposing the tower to obtain legal counsel to help them in their fight.

Union County, which also is opposed to the tower, will send its attorney to the hearing, scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. in the municipal building, 8 Springfield Ave.

In addition to asking for a variance to build the 130-foot cell tower in a residential area, the applicant also wants permission to build the tower higher than the current limit of 70 feet, have a shorter setback on the property, and allow for a 345-foot equipment shelter with a 2,700-square-foot, fenced-in containment area.

John H. Schmidt Jr., the attorney representing about 50 Cranford and Westfield residents who are opposed to the project, said his approach during the ongoing zoning board sessions has been two fold.

"I don't believe that the cellular tower companies have adequately established a gap in the area coverage for which they claim they need it," he said of the tower.

"But, assuming they can get over that hurdle, they still have to satisfy the zoning board that the variances should be granted by proving the benefits of having the tower far outweigh any negative impact it may have on the surrounding community, which is a residential zone," said Schmidt.

While Verizon Wireless is the primary applicant, the tower would also be used by Sprint Mobile, AT&T and Omnipoint.

The attorney representing the cell tower applicants did not return telephone messages left for him.

Critics of the project said the club wants to use the profits from the tower to help offset membership dues and to make upgrades to the facility.

Residents are opposed to the tower because they believe it would be bad for the area's aesthetics and, therefore, the values of their homes.

State historic preservation officials are also against the project because they maintain its design would harm the area's historical status.

A review of the project by the state Department of Environmental Protection's Natural and Historic Resources, Historic Preservation Office concluded last spring that the proposed tower "will have an adverse effect" on the Rahway River Park Historic District across the street from the swim club property.

Schmidt said that while the DEP has sent a letter to the zoning board stating its position, it is not enough to prevent the project from proceeding.

Freeholder and Cranford resident Betty Jane Kowalski said she learned about the DEP's findings over the summer and agrees with its conclusions.

"The county is opposed to the cell tower because the site is just too close to Lenape Park, which the county owns, and the area is eligible for historical status," she said.

"And it would not be just the tower. They would also have to construct an access road and build a service shed," said Kowalski.

"The swim club property is not an appropriate site for this project," she said.

Schmidt said tomorrow night's meeting will probably not be the end of it.

"The applicant will probably need one if not two more hearings at least after this meeting," he said.

"After the testimony is concluded, the zoning board will then open the proceedings for public comment, and that may not happen until at least March," said Schmidt.

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