Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Westfield Leader 08/28/2008

Attorney Calls Witnesses Against CF Cell Tower

Specially Written for The Westfield Leader

CRANFORD — The Cranford Zoning Board of Adjustment held its seventh hearing for the application of SMSA Limited Partnership, composed of Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, for a proposed cell phone monopole at the location of the Cranford Swim Club, on Monday night, before a room filled with about 50 residents.

The Westfield and Cranford residents opposed to the tower hired an attorney, John Schmidt, and he called his first two witnesses. Peter Steck, a planner since 1976, gave testimony based on the applicant’s planner’s testimony. Mr. Steck said the township’s ordinance states that telecommunications facilities are restricted to “non-residential areas,” emphasizing that the restriction is not just for a residential zone, but the area.

He concluded that the applicant’s planner did not provide a burden of proof as to the visual impact of the 120- foot monopole from Lenape Park. Because the park’s walking trail has no trees and is at the top of a berm, he said visitors on the trail would “see the tower more than residents” in the area and that the parkland is “even more sensitive” than residential. He maintained it would “dramatically affect the quality of that recreation area.” Mr. Steck said, “Your code states the visual impact is significant.”

Board Chairman Robert Hellenbrecht asked what other sites in the area would be deemed as having a visual impact, such as a pool, referencing the swim club. Mr. Steck responded that a monopole is “foreign.” He also said the tower’s proposed placement is in the 50-foot buffer zone that the swim club must provide per the ordinance so as not to encroach on the homes in its vicinity. “I don’t think that the applicant provided evidence to the board to approve this application,” Mr. Steck said. He stated that most of Lenape Park is located in a wetlands area and that, depending on the species of wildlife that live in the wetlands, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires either a 50-foot or a 150-foot buffer from a monopole.

Mr. Steck said there was no testimony given by the applicant that wetlands existed. He said if the DEP requires a 150-foot buffer than the tower would not comply, but there would not be a problem with the 50-foot buffer. He said it is not his job to provide the proof that the tower would be or not be in compliance; it is his job to state that the applicant did not present this information. According to the Union County website, Lenape Park has a Bluebird sanctuary and Tree Swallows have been sited there.

Mr. Steck also acknowledged that the Rahway River corridor extends into Lenape Park and that the state recognizes that this district is eligible national historic consideration. He said the applicant’s planner did not bring this to the board’s attention.

Mr. Schmidt also called Ronald Graiff, a radio frequency engineer licensed since 1975. He said there was no evidence saying, “that calls will fail when you get outside of that sea of green,” referring to the area that has cell phone coverage. Mr. Graiff also noted the applicant has stated they are applying for 1950 PCS band coverage. Nowhere does it state that they are applying for capacity, he said. Glenn Pierson of PierCon, a radio frequency expert for the applicant, had testified at earlier meetings as to the capacity problems cell phone carriers will see by 2010.

Capacity is the ability of a cell phone carrier to serve a multitude of call at once, and if it cannot handle the capacity, then a call would not go through, but would at a later time when the lines were not busy. Mr. Graiff also disagreed with Mr. Pierson’s calculations on capacity that the carriers would max out in capacity by 2010; Mr. Pierson took the “super capacity” dots from the graph he presented and “extrapolated that” to reach his conclusion, according to Mr. Graiff. Mr. Graiff believed he should have used the “mean line.” “If I tried to design for that kind of peak, I would go bankrupt,” he said of Mr. Pierson’s chart, and noted that Mr. Pierson used times of the year where people tend to make more calls, such as holidays.

Mr. Graiff also called the proposed area for the tower “poor cell site placement,” showing an overlay map he drew based on Mr. Pierson’s data. He also said that all three carriers have duplicated coverage in the range of 42 to 63 percent, where “good engineering” calls for 10 to 12 percent. He also said that because of “confusing testimony” that he could not say there was a gap in coverage.

The applicant’s attorney, Gregory Meese, will question Mr. Graiff at the next meeting on October 6. He is expected to question the witness for an hour to an hour and a half. Mr. Schmidt also has one other expert witness to testify.