Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Westfield Leader 10/09/2008

Hearings for Cell Tower Near To an End in Cranford

CRANFORD — The 120-foot cell tower application drawing strong opposition from Westfield and Cranford residents is nearing its end. Attorney John Schmidt, representing the Westfield and Cranford residents opposed to the cell tower, questioned his last witness at Monday night’s Cranford Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing for the application of SMSA Limited Partnership, composed of Verizon, AT&T and TMobile, for a cell phone monopole and equipment shelter at the location of the Cranford Swim Club on County Park Drive.

Mr. Schmidt’s radio frequency engineer expert Ronald Graiff was recalled to the stand for Gregory Meese, the applicant’s attorney, to cross-examine Mr. Graiff. Mr. Meese asked questions about Mr. Graiff’s familiarity with the testimony given by Mr. Meese’s radio frequency expert, Glenn Pierson. Mr. Meese questioned him about the drive test data, which measures wireless signal performance that Mr. Pierson supplied to Mr. Schmidt at an earlier meeting. “I have seen no drive tests in testimony,” Mr. Graiff responded. “I saw calculated coverage.”

Mr. Graiff said that “the stack of paper” given in response to Mr. Schmidt’s request for the data had no meaning because “the algorithm used to analyze was not presented.” “Mr. Pierson danced around at how they were done,” he said. Mr. Meese responded saying, “You made no effort to make a request of this data in another form?” “When someone asks for drive test data it is provided in a map with overlays,” Mr. Graiff said, noting in his experience in cell phone tower cases this form of the information is provided.

“I thought, quite frankly, it was a smart expletive way to get Mr. Schmidt the data,” he said. Then Mr. Meese and Mr. Graiff got into a word definition argument as Mr. Meese questioned what Mr. Graiff thought the definitions were for seamless, “without seams,” he replied; ubiquitous,” the same, he replied; “reliable,” “there is no hard measure of reliability,” he responded. Mr. Meese presented new data to the board that showed the capacity of calls made during legal holidays. “He doesn’t list the holidays he (Mr. Graiff) testified to [at the last meeting],” objected Mr. Schmidt, noting Mother’s Day as an example.

Then Mr. Meese brought up the topic of cell site placement. Mr. Graiff said cell carriers “typically place it (the tower) in the search ring.” “It is not in the search ring,” he said regarding the proposed site placement of the monopole.

A search ring is a hole identified through analysis of drive test data that shows the area to place the tower to achieve the service results desired. Mr. Graiff also said a carrier could place antennae on two 50- or 60-foot buildings to “get the coverage they needed.” Though he said it is not ideal. He said there were building sites to the south and the east that were suitable, but could not recall the exact locations.

Mr. Meese said Mr. Pierson testified to the need to go further north to achieve the desired coverage. Mr. Graiff also said, “There is no fact that states the antennae has to be above the tree line to propagate.” At the last meeting Mr. Graiff testified that there is no evidence stating “that calls will fail when you get outside of that sea of green,” referring to the area that has cell phone coverage. He also said that because of “confusing testimony” that he could not say there was a gap in coverage.

After Mr. Meese’s hour-and-15-minute cross examination, board member alternate Ronald Marotta said to Mr. Meese about not receiving a test data map, “This has been going on a long time. Something like that (drive test map) would have helped move this forward.”

Cranford resident Leonard Waldman informed Mr. Graiff that the test drive data received is not the original data because in an earlier meeting Mr. Pierson said the data was purged from the system due to space issues on the hard drive, and so he used data available at the time of the request.

Mr. Schmidt also called Thomas Kachelreiss, his real estate appraiser expert to the stand. He said he reviewed the Springfield site referred to by the applicants’ appraiser. He called the area the cell tower is located in an “industrial park.” He said since this area has had industrial use for some time that the home values there are already diminished due to that zone and so an appraiser cannot use it in a paired sales analysis.

Mr. Meese’s real estate appraiser used this analysis for testimony. He also said he could not find a cell tower “solely in a residential area.” He said the applicant only mentioned areas that are school zones. Mr. Meese then said that some of these school locations surround residential areas.

Mr. Meese asked about the tower in Mendham, which he said “is a three acre residential zone in a residential property.” “There haven’t been any sales in 2,000 feet of that property,” Mr. Kachelreiss responded as to why he did not do an analysis there.

Board member Christopher Drew told the appraiser that Union County College’s public safety director sent a letter to the board stating its reasons for not wanting a tower on its grounds. The college was approached by the applicant before the swim club. Mr. Drew asked the appraiser why he thinks the college would not want it on its property.

“I would think they would be opposed because of their Astronomy department,” he answered, saying the tower would cause interference. Then board chairman Robert Hellenbrecht asked Mr. Kachelreiss to give the board “something with more meat” and not opinion.

Mr. Kachelreiss said the homes in Springfield in the area of the tower are larger in size than those in the Westfield/ Cranford area in question, but the values of the homes in Westfield and Cranford are higher. He also said the quality and maintenance were not equal, inferring that Westfield and Cranford were of higher caliber.

Cranford resident Marjorie Meise asked Mr. Kachelreiss if he thought the homes in Westfield and Cranford, in the vicinity of the tower, would decrease in value and he said “yes.” She also said the homes in question do not have acres of land like the area in Mendham.

Then Mr. Schmidt called his final witness, Michael Shuvart, a resident of Manatoa Circle in Westfield. He showed the board pictures and a map of the area where the tower would be placed and of the area in Springfield. It showed a line from the tower to where the setback from property should be at 360 feet. The proposed setback of the tower is 14 feet.

The next meeting is set for Monday, November 24, when Mr. Meese will cross examine Mr. Shuvart, and if time allows residents can come before the board with comments.