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.