Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cranford Chronicle 11/30/2008

After Year, Application for CSC Cell Tower Continues

CRANFORD - In the ninth meeting on a contentious application to build a cellular tower at the Cranford Swimming Club (CSC) the public had their first opportunity to comment on the application, though a decision on the application will likely have to wait until December.

The application calls for a 120-foot monopole tower and a cluster of communication equipment to be constructed at the rear of the swim club property on the border of Cranford and Westfield by a cooperative of cellular providers including, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and Omnipoint, a branch of T-Mobile.

According to attorney Greg Meese and other experts for the cellular providers, the tower is necessary to fill a gap in coverage and to meet service demands.

However, residents in both Cranford and Westfield have objected, saying they do not experience a lack of cellular coverage and that the tower will negatively impact their property values. A group of objectors have hired attorney John Schmidt of Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper to represent their concerns.

The application has also drawn objections from Union County and the state, with county attorney Norman Albert saying the tower would negatively impact the neighboring Lenape Park. The claim has received backing from the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office who asserted that the Rahway River Parkway Historic District, which was identified by the National Register of Historic Places in Sept. 2002, would be damaged if the tower was erected.

During the Monday, Nov. 24 meeting of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, before a crowd of approximately 50 people, Schmidt presented four residents who testified that they conducted cell phone tests.

Audrey Muratore, Maria Polyvioe, Elaine Puma, and Marjorie Meise all recorded the results from a series of calls which they made from their AT&T and Verizon Wireless cell phones, within the area that the application has indicated as having limited coverage.

With the exception of Meise who testified that one call was dropped as she headed toward Broad Street in Westfield from Gallows Hill Road, all of the women said they had no issues with coverage during their test calls.

"This is what I use 90 percent of the time," Muratore said of her cell phone. "I've never had a problem."

Meese objected, saying, "I think the case law is clear that this type of anecdotal evidence is not relevant."

As the testimony continued, the ringing of a cell phone distracted from the meeting briefly.

"Guess it works here," one resident remarked, drawing a laugh from the audience.

Addressing one of the main issues of the application, board chairman Robert Hellenbrecht asked if there was any way for the board to know if the test calls were made on the 800 megahertz service, which the cellular carriers have said is reliable in the area, or the 1,900 megahertz service that the application is seeking to expand.

Per testimony given earlier in the application, witnesses for the cellular providers have said that as service demands increase a greater number of calls are carried on the less reliable 1,900 megahertz service.

Schmidt and witnesses for area residents have said that the carriers have effectively admitted that they need to boost capacity not coverage. In seeking this tower witness for the objectors have said the cell providers are overlapping coverage instead of expanding it.

On Monday, Schmidt said both he and the witnesses could not say what frequency was used for the calls.

Calling his only witness for the application, Albert introduced testimony by planner Victor Vinegra of Harbor Consultants.

Speaking about the work he has performed for Union County related to Lenape Park, Vinegra stated that the trail system in the park is an integral part of the county's greenway and if erected the tower would be "a visual blight somewhat on the park."

"Looking to buffer this would be very difficult because of the height of the tower," Vinegra said. What's more, Vinegra criticized statements previously made by the applicant's planner citing that a willing landlord for the tower and the property's location near a park should be considered as part of the planning criteria for the application.

"That's a business reason, not a planning reason," he testified.

Cross examining Vinegra, Meese said that Verizon Wireless was in the process of appealing the decision by the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office. Meese also said that that for his testimony Vinegra had "ransacked the case law for the cases that made a juicy bill board."

Answering back, Vinegra said that like the planner for the applicant he testified to relevant cases related to cell tower applications.

In closing, Meese recalled radio frequency engineer Glenn Pierson's testimony. Rebuffing the residents who testified about their investigative calls, Pierson said that all but three of the 16 test calls were made within the existing area of coverage.

Questioning Pierson again, board vice-chair Jeffery Pistol asked about a seeming contradiction between the advertised coverage by cellular providers and the coverage maps presented as evidence.

"I'm confused as to how they can represent one thing on the advertisement and another thing here," Pistol said.

Pierson responded that he could not testify about the advertisements because he had not conducted the tests used to produce the material.

During the public comments on the application no residents spoke in favor of the application.

Speaking out against the application Austin Habiv said that the applicant had offered "distorted information" thorough out the case.

"We can't afford to have this in our community," Habiv continued.

Furthering the criticism, Cranford resident Frank Krause called the application "totally flawed, inaccurate, and incomplete."

Roxanne Graham said that she and her husband bought their home because of the serene neighborhood.

"Unfortunately our picturesque view is going to be gone once this thing goes up in our backyard," she asserted.

Saying that residents such as herself in the community are good neighbors who do not complain about the noise from the swim club, Mary Valenzano pointed out that members of the Cranford Swimming Club could quit the club if the sight of the cell tower bothered them, but residents of the area did not have that luxury.

"Please say no. It's the right thing to do," she urged the board.

Paul Fuller said that like most others he has a Blackberry that works well from within his house.

He continued on to say that the swim club is being a bad neighbor and by allowing the tower, it will also be facilitating the mistreatment of residents.

"It's kind of like they want their cake but I have to pay for it and then watch them eat it," Fuller said.

At the Dec. 8 meeting of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, public comment will continue, the attorneys will make their closing statements and the board will deliberate on the application with a decision possible.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Westfield Leader 11/27/2008

Westfield, Cranford Residents Voice Resounding ‘No’ to Cell Tower

CRANFORD — Residents of Westfield and Cranford on Monday had their first chance to make comments to the Cranford planning board regarding the application for a 120-foot cell tower proposed for placement at the Cranford Swimming Club on County Park Drive, which borders on Westfield. In this yearlong battle, Westfield and Cranford homeowners who live adjacent to or near the swim club have opposed the application to erect a cell phone tower.

The applicant, SMSA Limited Partnership, composed of Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, seeks use, height and setback variances to place the monopole and an equipment shelter in a residential zone at the Cranford Swimming Club.

Austin Habib of Manitou Circle in Westfield said to the board, “you have the right to disapprove” the application based on the interests of the community, adding that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) cannot force the municipality to approve it. He voiced concerns of the possible health risks of frequencies the tower would emit, noting how government in the past had said certain materials, such as mercury, were harmless, only to learn later that they were harmful to humans. He also said research he found on the Internet stated that monopoles can reduce a home’s value by up to 50 percent.

Mark O’Neil of 56 Manitou Circle said, “for me, it began with the presumption that it is not allowed.” He said there is “sufficient reason” to not approve the application. He called the board’s imminent decision a “balancing test” of legality and the community perspective. He said a realtor said to him recently that a couple heard about the cell tower case and dropped out of looking at a home in the area. “It’s perception. It affects the value of everyone’s house.” Mr. O’Neil said, “It’s not a constitutional issue,” adding, “we have land lines for phones, cable lines for phones. Certainly cell phone service doesn’t rise to the level of need of a water line or electrical line.” “Look at how many people are against this application. The majority should weigh on your minds,” he said. He called the tower an “eyesore.” Mr. O’Neil said if the cell tower was approved, the swim club would be changing its use to a commercial property by renting its space and profiting off of the lease. “At the end of the day, it is fundamentally unfair,” he said.

Paul Fuller of Cranford reiterated Mr. O’Neil’s statement, saying this application is not a variance but a rezoning issue. “We are looking to you guys to help us stop this,” he said. “It’s a bottom line majority issue...You haven’t shown it’s beneficial to the neighborhood.”

Myron Kesselhaut of 44 Manitou Circle lives the closest to the proposed location of the tower and said he bought his home 40 years ago because he had a “pristine property.” He said if the tower goes up it would be 14 feet from his yard where his grandchildren play and would impinge on his view. “I want my grandchildren to play with no problems,” he said. “I want to enjoy my final days there.”

Charles Rauch of 20 Manitou Circle cited visual and noise pollution and lowered property values as the impact to the neighborhood surrounding the tower site. The rapid improvements in technology and how technological devices have been made smaller for the same or more use are proven, he said, adding that the same could happen to how cell phone service is provided.

Frank Krause of Cranford said one variance was “overlooked,” citing the tower site is 15 feet from county parklands, where 50 feet is required.

Andrea Bergman of 40 Nomahegan Court in Cranford said the board should vote no, “if you on the board truly represent the residents of Cranford and not the big money interest.”

“Please say no. It’s the right thing to do,” said Mary Valanzano of
Nomahegan Court.

Prior to resident comments, Michael Shuvart, a resident of Manatoa Circle in Westfield, was recalled to the stand. He testified about advertisements he saw for the three cell phone carriers and how each of their websites has a user option to type in an address to see the result of coverage in the area. He said all three carriers showed sufficient coverage in the proposed cell site location.

The applicant’s attorney, Gregory Meese, stated that footnotes on the ads said maps produced may include no service areas, limited or no coverage areas and does not guarantee service, coverage and availability.

John Schmidt, the attorney representing the residents opposed to the application, said the maps stated that they showed the strongest coverage numbers resulting in good or better coverage.

Mr. Schmidt then called four residents to testify on behalf on their own call test, of which they made a handful of calls from various places in the area in question to research the reliability of the cell phone service. Mr. Meese objected to each person’s testimony saying it is not relevant and does not stand up in court.

All but one phone call was noted as going through and not being dropped. Later, Glenn Pierson, a radio frequency expert for the applicant, was called to redirect comments on this data. He said of 16 of the calls he looked at, all but three were in the existing coverage area on the Verizon map that showed good coverage.

Norman Albert, an attorney representing the County of Union, called Victor Vinagra of Harbor Consultants as a planning expert to testify on the effect the tower has on the county parkland at Lenape Park. Mr. Vinagra presented a PowerPoint display of photographs he took of the park and the views from the tower site into the yards of the neighboring homes, and a trail system map.

He said the view from the homes would see the base of the tower and 10 feet above it. The trail connects Echo Lake Park with Nomahegan Park and extends behind the swim club. It is part of the Union County Greenway, which is part of the New Jersey Greenway. Mr. Vinagra said the county is commissioning to expand the greenway. The tower affects the long range planning the county has for its park system, he said. The visual effects the tower would have from the greenway would have a “negative impact on the county park system,” he said.

This sentiment was shared by the Rahway River Parkway Historic District in a letter, he said. He said the tree buffer was not good year-round and the height of the tower extends above the tree line, which he said is about 70 to 80 feet. He said the applicant has failed to make a case to approve the tower placement and it does no meet the zone plan. “Not being able to negotiate a deal with other property owners is not a reason to grant the application,” Mr. Vinagra told the board. He said just because Lenape Park cannot be developed for residential use does not mean it cannot be developed for park activities. He said the fact that the tower’s proposed site abuts 270 acres of open space “pushes the impact” a monopole would have on the area and “does not negate the impact.”

The next board meeting on the cell tower will be held Monday, December 8, at 8:15 p.m.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cranford Chronicle 11/23/2008

Cranford Cell Tower Meeting November 24, Decision Pending
by The Chronicle

CRANFORD - On November 24, at 8:15 p.m. there will be a meeting of the Cranford Zoning Board at the Cranford municipal building, 8 Springfield Ave., Cranford, to determine whether the Zoning Board will allow the construction of a 120-foot cell phone tower and related buildings at the Cranford Swim Club, 201 County Park Drive, Cranford.

This area is zoned strictly residential and is adjacent to Lenape Park, a county park, used by residents of many towns.

Comments from the audience regarding this proposal will be listened to by the Zoning Board and a final decision may be made.

All interested persons are urged to attend this very important meeting. Call (908) 709-7216 for additional information.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Action Alert! Zoning Board Meeting 11/24/2008

The Cranford Zoning Board of Adjustment will hold a continuation hearing for the Cranford Swim Club cell tower proposal on Monday, November 24, 2008.

Meeting Information:

DATE: Monday, November 24, 2008

TIME: 8:15pm

PLACE: Cranford Municipal Building [Room 107], 8 Springfield Avenue, Cranford, New Jersey

At this meeting, Mr. Schmidt (attorney for the residents) will make his closing argument of opposition to this cell tower proposal. Norm Albert (attorney representing Union County) is expected to call one witness to testify as well.

Should the attorneys both complete their witness testimony, the Zoning Board may begin to hear public comment. This will be the most vital portion and we urge everyone to stand up before the Zoning Board and have their voices heard!

This has been a long battle and we must now make it clear that this cell tower application must be denied!

See everyone at the meeting!

Please arrive early as we are expecting a large turnout!

This Zoning Board meeting will also be televised live on Cranford's TV-35. Please tune in if you cannot make it to the meeting!