Friday, June 27, 2008

The Westfield Leader 06/26/2008

Sprint Backs Out of Cell Tower Proposal in Cranford

CRANFORD – Gregory Meese, attorney for SMSA Limited Partnership, the applicant proposing a cell phone tower at the Cranford Swimming Club on County Park Drive, presented revised plans during the Cranford Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting on Monday, showing the height of the monopole reduced by 10 feet, from 130 to 120 feet, because Sprint backed out of the deal. This height difference changes the required setback of tower height distances from 162.5 feet to 150 feet and alters the minimum setback to a property line, which is now 360 feet, reduced from 390 feet. The application is still not within the required setbacks.

William Master, a professional planner hired by the applicant, said the compound area for the remaining, three telecommunication companies’ equipment would stay the same size “in case of an additional carrier in the future.” Mr. Master will continue his testimony at the next meeting on Monday, July 14. John Gillooly, a real estate appraiser certified since 1992, spoke on behalf of SMSA and gave most of the testimony that evening.

He presented a paired sales analysis, which he said is a study of a sale of one property and a resale of the same or “very similar” property. He studied all “same” properties in his report. He said that since there was not a cell tower in the Cranford area in question, he looked at a “comparable location” that had a monopole. He chose 51 Brown Avenue in Springfield, north of Route 22. The tower was built in April 2004, and is “one mile from the subject’s location,” according to Mr. Gillooly.

Someone in the audience later shouted that it is two-tenths of a mile from Route 22, according to a satellite image the person had. The Springfield tower is located in an industrial zone, whereas the tower SMSA is proposing would be located in a residential zone, with the tower 246 feet from the nearest home in Westfield.

In his report, dated June 16, 2008, he showed two sets of data, those homes with a view of the tower and those without. He looked at all sales prior to and following April 2004 to determine the appreciation rate, a measure of increase in the value of a sale. He said he eliminated homes that were “substantially renovated,” which he listed as having a remodeled kitchen, a finished basement or an addition, among other things, from the first sale. This information, he said, was either obtained from a building permit issued or disclosed from a real estate agent. He also removed homes that were sold for one dollar and cases where a property was sold as part of an estate sale.

His findings determined that homes with a view of the tower increased 1 percent on average per month, or 12 percent per year, and homes without a view were the same, on average. The median rate of appreciation was 0.8 percent per month for homes with a view and 1.1 percent for homes without a view. The mean was 0.6 to 1.7 percent with a view, and 0.7 to 1.3 percent without a view per month.

Jeffrey Pistol, vice chairman of the board, asked Mr. Gillooly many questions and made comments. “You would expect to find an increase,” Mr. Pistol said of any property sale over a given time period. “It doesn’t tell us anything,” Mr. Pistol said of Mr. Gillooly’s data. Mr. Pistol added, “People know if there is a cell tower, view or not, and they may choose to look in another neighborhood. That’s the real type of analysis you should have done.” The audience clapped in response. “Just by looking at these addresses…it is more of a commercial area than Kenilworth Boulevard in Cranford,” he said. He also asked why he did not look at a comparable neighborhood without a tower to see the difference in appreciation.

Mr. Gillooly responded by saying there is not a comparable area. Mr. Gillooly told The Westfield Leader that no one had asked him to examine rates of appreciation in the Cranford/Westfield area that would be affected by the tower placed at the swim club during that same time period he calculated for Springfield to see if appreciation rates were below, same or higher than the same period in Springfield. This could give the board a way to compare the “comparable area” affected by a tower to the Cranford/Westfield neighborhood. He also said that he couldn’t compare this area to the one he calculated in Springfield because “there still could be a location difference.”

In sum, he said, “I have never found an impact” to the rate of appreciation due to a cell phone tower in proximity to a residential zone.

Westfield resident Austin Habib asked Mr. Gillooly what the prices were of the residences in his market area. He answered with numbers ranging from $380,000 to $630,000. Mr. Habib shot back that homes in the Westfield and Cranford area are in the $600,000 to $850,000 range. Mr. Habib also said “many times you don’t need a license for it [remodels].”

Norman Albert asked Mr. Gillooly if views of Manhattan or a waterfront could have a tax impact on a home, and he answered yes, it may.

Cranford resident Frank Krause later asked if a cell tower could negatively impact the tax revenue to a township by a lower tax assessment of homes with a view of a tower, and Mr. Gillooly said that was not his area of expertise. Mr. Krause also raised the question of how the members of the swim club, each an owner of the club because they buy a bond to join, could be impacted by their share in a sale should the swim club dissolve and the property be sold off.

The board said Mr. Gillooly did not have to answer since he testified to no data such as this.

Earlier in the night, Glenn Pierson, expert engineer for the applicant, gave the opponent’s attorney, John Schmidt, a pile of raw data used for Mr. Pierson’s earlier charts of gaps in coverage for each cell phone carrier that was requested before.

Mr. Schmidt said he was “blindsided” by Mr. Pierson giving him these records in the hearing, knowing he had his own witness to speak on behalf of this information. Mr. Pierson had possession of the data months earlier. Mr. Schmidt’s witness will speak at a later meeting.