Sunday, October 5, 2008

Local Source: Cranford News 10/01/2008

Tower Plan a Year-Old
By Paul Greulich
Wednesday, October 1, 2008

CRANFORD, NJ - The end is nowhere in sight for the controversial Zoning Board hearings on a proposal to erect a 120-foot tall cell tower on the Cranford Swim Club grounds, an application reaching the one year anniversary of its introduction this month.

The applicant, Verizon, is seeking height and setback variances needed to erect the pole in a residential area, near the county-owned Lenape Park and the Rahway River Park historic district.

Zoning Board Chair Robert Hellenbrect said he expects more hearings on the project, anticipated to extend well into 2009. He said he never expected the application process to last so long, but he is not surprised.

“After the first meeting, when so many people turned out, I knew it was going to be a long one,” Hellenbrect said.

The first hearing on the application was Oct. 15, 2007. Area residents’ concerns focused on aesthetics, the location of the pole in relation to their property lines and the adjoining park, and the health hazards associated with living near the tower, a factor that remains a topic of concern despite not yet having been scientifically substantiated.

The residents hired attorney John Schmidt of Lindabury, McCormick & Estabrook in Westfield to represent them in the matter.

Hellenbrect pointed out the application involves a lot of technical details, which have generated a lot of questions.

"The applicant has finished his portion of testimony. Presently the lawyer, who represents a good number of people, is presenting his witnesses," Hellenbrect said.

County officials are expected to take a turn, offering their view of the proposed tower on Oct. 6, depending on scheduling.

County Counsel and Cranford Democratic Chair Norman Albert, will represent Union County's view on the issue.

“I’m disappointed its gone on this long, but I’m not surprised,” Albert said. “I think the appropriate thing to do would be to withdraw this application as inappropriate for the neighborhood and for Cranford and the county.”

"The county attorney will present a witness and that may well wrap up the portion of the hearings associated with testimony," Hellenbrect said. "And we will then open it up to public comments."

Among the most vocal opponents of the cell tower proposal have been some members of The Shuvart Family, who live near the site, on Manitou Circle.

Michael Shuvart acknowledged the lengthy nature of the application, but said he felt a lot of progress had been made in recent meetings toward bringing out what he described as "discrepancies" in the application.

"It's time for us to provide our witnesses," said Shuvart, who noted the residents onsulted with a radio frequency engineer and a real estate appraiser.

Hellenbrect said that while meeting attendance has fallen off somewhat since the hearings became televised in April, residents have continued to follow the process.

"There has been a considerable amount of interest through the entire hearing," he said.

Hellenbrect disagreed with statements made suggesting the cell tower has become the longest-running application to come before the Zoning Board.

This distinction, he maintains, is held by a four-year-old application for a gas station at the end of Orchard Street.

Schmidt, Verizon attorney Gregory Meese and representatives from the Cranford Swim Club did not return calls for comment.

The next hearing on the application will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Monday at the Municipal Building, 8 Springfield Ave.