Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cranford Chronicle 12/10/2008

Board Rejects 14-Month Long Cranford Swimming Club Cell Tower Application
By Leslie Murray
December 10, 2008

CRANFORD - After 14 months of testimony given over the course of 10 meetings, the application to build a 120-foot monopole cell tower at the Cranford Swimming Club (CSC) was unanimously rejected by the Zoning Board of Adjustment during the Monday, Dec. 8 meeting.

In voting on the application, which drew serious objections from Cranford and Westfield residents as well as from Union County representatives, board members agreed that the application, a cooperative effort by Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and Omnipoint, a branch of T-Mobile, failed to prove a significant gap in coverage. What's more board members also said that the negative impact on the residents who live in the area surrounding CSC would be significant and outweighed any benefit from the tower. The decision was met with a boisterous round of applause from the audience.

Drawing about 60 members of the public, the end of the final meeting of the long and contentious application was marked by public comments and the closing statements made by attorney for the applicant Gregory Meese and the attorneys representing the objectors - John Schmidt who represented a group of residents and Norman Albert who represented Union County.

As they spoke, residents from the area surrounding the swim club asked the board to reject the application, saying that the tower would be utterly detrimental to their quality of life.

Saying that residents were being unfairly saddled with the tower because of a decision by the swim club, Ellen Miller said she could only guess that the club would use the lease payments from the tower to pay for upgrades in the facility.

"I am a former member of the Cranford Swimming Club and I have paid my dues. Now I feel I'm being asked to pay dues again," Miller said.

Offering a visual aid of where the tower would be from one property line, resident Tom Graham took out a tape measure and stood 14 feet from the podium, asking the board to protect the residents.

Call the evidence presented by the applicant unimpressive, Norman Schwartz said that adding a cell tower in the neighborhood would urbanize the suburban neighborhood no matter how the cellular providers suggested camouflaging it.

"I don't care if it has branches on it. I don't care if it has nests on it. 'Welcome to New York City,'" Schwartz said. "I'm pleading with you: just vote no."

Offering support, Linden resident Joseph Sarica said that as the mail carrier for the area he understood why residents chose the quiet, calm neighborhood.

"They're good people. They're hardworking people. They don't deserve this," he said.

The concern of residents also drew support from Union County Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski and Westfield Councilwoman Vicky Kimmins, both of whom encouraged the board to reject the application.

The meeting became more heated as the attorneys offered their closing statements, taking to task the witnesses and the testimony that had been offered throughout the application.

Offering his statements first, Albert said that the applicant had failed to make their case. He specifically took aim at the testimony regarding attempts to find alternate sites for the cell tower, calling the efforts "wholly inadequate."

"The detrimental impact on the residential area and a county park land ... is really incontrovertible," Albert said.

In his closing statement, Schmidt criticized the entire application saying that not only had the applicant failed to prove a gap in coverage but that the experts offered testimony that was based on data that did not exist.

"I submit that that this applicant has failed to show not only a significant gap in coverage but any gap in coverage," Schmidt said.

Furthering his statements, he said that by allowing a cell tower in a residential area, the board would be setting a dangerous precedent.

"You're going to open the door with this application and you are not going to be able to close it," Schmidt said.

Firing back, Meese said that in making the application the cellular carriers had proposed a tower in "the least obtrusive site" in an area that needed cellular coverage.

"They have an (FCC) license. They have the need for the site. They have investigated all other possible sites," Meese said. "Clearly the benefits outweigh the determents."

However the board members disagreed, saying that the applicant had failed to prove that there was a gap in coverage that would be filled by the proposed cell tower.

Making a motion to reject the application, board member Christopher Drew said the applicant had failed to make their case.

"Quite frankly, I don't think a significant gap in coverage has been proven," Drew said, drawing a round of applause.

Seconding the motion, Robert Bovasso said that in addition to not making the case that residential property values would remain unaffected, the application had not appropriately proved that the coverage was needed. "I don't believe that a gap in coverage had been demonstrated. It's too speculative," he said.

Offering his comment, board chairman Robert Hellenbrecht said that he "(did not) believe this tower is going to solve any big problems."

"I believe that the determents substantially outweigh the benefits," Hellenbrecht said.

Leslie Murray is a staff writer for The Chronicle. She can be reached at (908)464-5214 or