Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cranford Chronicle 08/29/2008

Objectors to Cranford Cell Tower Bring in Attorney
by Leslie Murray
Friday August 29, 2008

CRANFORD - The contentious application to build a monopole cell tower at the Cranford Swimming Club (CSC) continued this week as the attorney for a group of objecting residents presented testimony from a planner and a radio frequency engineer.

The August 25th meeting marked the seventh time the application by a cooperative of cellular providers, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and Omnipoint, a branch of T-Mobile, has been heard by the Board of Adjustment. The application calls for a 120 foot monopole tower on the rear of the swim club property at the border of Cranford and Westfield. At least one more meeting will be required before a decision on the application is rendered.

The tower was initially proposed at 130 feet but was reduced when Sprint Mobile dropped out of the application. Greg Meese, attorney for the applicant, and experts have maintained the carriers have a gap in coverage and need the tower to meet service demands.

Residents in both towns have objected, saying the tower will negatively impact their property values and could be a health risk. 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. In a letter to the Cranford Zoning Board, written last year, The New Jersey Historic Preservation Office asserted the Rahway River Parkway Historic District, which was formally identified by the National Register of Historic Places in September 2002, would be damaged if the tower was erected.

This week Schmidt presented testimony from planner Peter Steck and engineer Ronald Graiff that conflicted with the initial testimony given when the applicant gave concluding testimony from expert witnesses.

Speaking about the variances that had been requested in the application, which include exceeding the maximum height for a tower, less than the required set back from a residential zone, and less than the required front yard and side yard setbacks, Steck said the applicant had used the standard setbacks for areas that allow cell towers as a permitted use. However, because the area is an R-1 residential zone and the tower use is not permitted, Steck called it "improper to apply the standards (for a tower in) a non-residential area." What's more, he said the board could demand more stringent set backs at the site if they deemed it necessary.

Steck also objected to the testimony by William Masters, Jr., planner for the applicant, which supported the tower because it offered a benefit to the public at large.

"In my opinion, this is not an inherently beneficial use," Steck told the board. He added that he believed the neighboring county park land was "just as sensitive as a residential area and possibly more sensitive", a direct contradiction to Masters' comment that fewer residents would be impacted because the tower was near the park. "It will, in my opinion, dramatically affect the quality of that recreational area," Steck said of the tower's impact on Lenape Park.

Questioned by Meese about other suitable sites for such a tower, Steck said it was not his task to find alternate sites and while he did agree with Meese's assertion that the surrounding plots were too small to accommodate a cell tower "in (his) opinion size is not the only issue."

Answering a question from board chairman Robert Hellenbrecht regarding the total impact of the tower, Steck said that noise and other traffic at the site currently are seasonal and the noise of children at both the park and the swim club are not generally considered offensive, but "a cell tower is foreign" to the area.

When Steck concluded his testimony, the audience of nearly 50 people broke into a round of applause. The group also lauded the testimony by Graiff.

As Graiff testified about the two issues that impact wireless service - coverage "the ability of a system ... to provide a receivable signal" and capacity "the system's (ability) to handle what's delivered to it" - and began to speak on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules regarding cellular communications, Meese objected.

Graiff replied that though he wasn't an attorney he had been on the FCC rule-drafting committee and would not offer an interpretation of the rules, but would only read them to the board. Board attorney David Weeks said the testimony was admissible.

As he testified, Graiff said it was unclear if the application was about coverage or capacity. What's more he objected to the testimony by the applicant's radio frequency engineer Glen Pierson that the current cell sites in the area would reach maximum capacity by 2010.

"Forgive me, but it's nearly impossible to design anything, from a cellular network to a power grid ... to the maximum capacity," Graiff said. "I'm not questioning the grid design. All I'm questioning if that someone can make the bold statement ... that this cell site will run out a capacity by 2010," he said.

Calling the potential tower at CSC "poor cell site placement", Graiff said that using the information provided by the applicant, he saw a 62 percent duplication in coverage for T-Mobile, a 52 percent duplication of coverage for AT&T, and nearly a 50 percent duplication in coverage for Verizon.

When the application continues on October 6, Meese will cross examine Graiff and another expert witness is expected to testify before the public is allowed to comment on the application.

The Westfield Leader 08/28/2008

Attorney Calls Witnesses Against CF Cell Tower

Specially Written for The Westfield Leader

CRANFORD — The Cranford Zoning Board of Adjustment held its seventh hearing for the application of SMSA Limited Partnership, composed of Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, for a proposed cell phone monopole at the location of the Cranford Swim Club, on Monday night, before a room filled with about 50 residents.

The Westfield and Cranford residents opposed to the tower hired an attorney, John Schmidt, and he called his first two witnesses. Peter Steck, a planner since 1976, gave testimony based on the applicant’s planner’s testimony. Mr. Steck said the township’s ordinance states that telecommunications facilities are restricted to “non-residential areas,” emphasizing that the restriction is not just for a residential zone, but the area.

He concluded that the applicant’s planner did not provide a burden of proof as to the visual impact of the 120- foot monopole from Lenape Park. Because the park’s walking trail has no trees and is at the top of a berm, he said visitors on the trail would “see the tower more than residents” in the area and that the parkland is “even more sensitive” than residential. He maintained it would “dramatically affect the quality of that recreation area.” Mr. Steck said, “Your code states the visual impact is significant.”

Board Chairman Robert Hellenbrecht asked what other sites in the area would be deemed as having a visual impact, such as a pool, referencing the swim club. Mr. Steck responded that a monopole is “foreign.” He also said the tower’s proposed placement is in the 50-foot buffer zone that the swim club must provide per the ordinance so as not to encroach on the homes in its vicinity. “I don’t think that the applicant provided evidence to the board to approve this application,” Mr. Steck said. He stated that most of Lenape Park is located in a wetlands area and that, depending on the species of wildlife that live in the wetlands, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires either a 50-foot or a 150-foot buffer from a monopole.

Mr. Steck said there was no testimony given by the applicant that wetlands existed. He said if the DEP requires a 150-foot buffer than the tower would not comply, but there would not be a problem with the 50-foot buffer. He said it is not his job to provide the proof that the tower would be or not be in compliance; it is his job to state that the applicant did not present this information. According to the Union County website, Lenape Park has a Bluebird sanctuary and Tree Swallows have been sited there.

Mr. Steck also acknowledged that the Rahway River corridor extends into Lenape Park and that the state recognizes that this district is eligible national historic consideration. He said the applicant’s planner did not bring this to the board’s attention.

Mr. Schmidt also called Ronald Graiff, a radio frequency engineer licensed since 1975. He said there was no evidence saying, “that calls will fail when you get outside of that sea of green,” referring to the area that has cell phone coverage. Mr. Graiff also noted the applicant has stated they are applying for 1950 PCS band coverage. Nowhere does it state that they are applying for capacity, he said. Glenn Pierson of PierCon, a radio frequency expert for the applicant, had testified at earlier meetings as to the capacity problems cell phone carriers will see by 2010.

Capacity is the ability of a cell phone carrier to serve a multitude of call at once, and if it cannot handle the capacity, then a call would not go through, but would at a later time when the lines were not busy. Mr. Graiff also disagreed with Mr. Pierson’s calculations on capacity that the carriers would max out in capacity by 2010; Mr. Pierson took the “super capacity” dots from the graph he presented and “extrapolated that” to reach his conclusion, according to Mr. Graiff. Mr. Graiff believed he should have used the “mean line.” “If I tried to design for that kind of peak, I would go bankrupt,” he said of Mr. Pierson’s chart, and noted that Mr. Pierson used times of the year where people tend to make more calls, such as holidays.

Mr. Graiff also called the proposed area for the tower “poor cell site placement,” showing an overlay map he drew based on Mr. Pierson’s data. He also said that all three carriers have duplicated coverage in the range of 42 to 63 percent, where “good engineering” calls for 10 to 12 percent. He also said that because of “confusing testimony” that he could not say there was a gap in coverage.

The applicant’s attorney, Gregory Meese, will question Mr. Graiff at the next meeting on October 6. He is expected to question the witness for an hour to an hour and a half. Mr. Schmidt also has one other expert witness to testify.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cranford Chronicle 08/24/2008

Cell Phone Tower Meeting

To The Chronicle:

There will be a meeting of the Cranford Zoning Board in the Cranford municipal building, 8 Springfield Ave., on Aug. 25 at 8:15 p.m. The subject is Verizon's proposed 120-foot cell tower, which Verizon wants to locate on the Cranford Swim Club property, located on the Westfield/Cranford border. All interested persons are urged to attend.

Jenny Schuvart

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Action Alert! Zoning Board Meeting 08/25/2008

The Cranford Zoning Board of Adjustment will hold a continuation hearing for the Cranford Swim Club cell tower proposal on Monday, August 25, 2008.

Meeting Information:

DATE: Monday, August 25, 2008

TIME: 8:15pm

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

The attorney for the residents will begin calling expert witnesses to testify at this meeting. If time allows; the attorney for the county will also call witnesses to testify on this date.

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!