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Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 05/9/07

Cell tower foes set to fight

LARRY HIGGS
COASTAL MONMOUTH BUREAU

Objectors expect to voice opposition soon

FAIR HAVEN - After months of listening and asking some questions, residents opposed to a cellular telephone tower being built on church property will have their chance to talk about it.

Expert witnesses for Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile concluded their testimony last month. Now, experts retained by the borough and the residents will get their chance to speak when the hearing resumes Thursday.

Verizon and T-Mobile are seeking approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustment to build a 133-foot tower on land behind the Church of the Nativity on Ridge Road.

Residents for the Future of Fair Haven, a group that opposes a tower in any residential area, warned residents on its Web site that this could be the last chance to weigh in on the issue.

Tom Kirman of Fisk Street, who's involved with the group, said the opposition is in the fight for the long haul.

"We always expect a big turnout in this town," Kirman said. "There is no place in this town near a residential area where the cell tower is wanted."

One unifying factor among opponents is that rather than taking a "not in my backyard" position, residents have said "not in anyone's backyard" and supported a tower site in Fair Haven Fields, away from homes.

"I'll say it over and over - I don't want it near anyone's backyard," Kirman said.

Depending on how long the borough experts' testimony takes, residents might have a chance to begin testifying - and making statements to the board - that night.

"I think we'll be listening (mostly) to borough experts, and some (residents) may make statements," Kirman said.

Special Borough Attorney Stuart Lieberman doesn't have a long list of witnesses to call.

"I have one witness, a radio frequency expert that will testify," Lieberman said.

But don't expect the borough's case to be brief.

Questions about the tower site's suitability will be raised, as will flooding and drainage questions that have been brought up at past hearings by residents of the nearby Gentry neighborhood, Lieberman said.

"There is a big flooding problem there, and creating more impervious (paved) surface can't help the problem," he said.

Another issue to be addressed is the current negotiations the borough is having with the Methodist church. Town officials want to lease some municipal property near Fair Haven Fields to the church as a tower site.

Verizon put the application on hold when officials reopened talks with the state Department of Environmental Protection late last year about swapping borough parkland for a 70-foot by 70-foot tower site in a wooded section in Fair Haven Fields, which was bought with funds from the state Green Acres program.

The DEP rejected that proposal in February.

Resident Chris Brenner, who signed a petition against the tower, said putting it in Fair Haven Fields would have resolved the issue.

"In my opinion, the perfect site was in Fair Haven Fields," he said. "If you look at an aerial map, it was the only spot, or in front of the Methodist church (property) where there are no homes in sight of the thing," Brenner said.

Kirman has said he believes the case won't wrap up very quickly. And many people involved with the case said they expect an appeal of any decision rendered by the zoners.

Lieberman, however, said anything could happen Thursday night and that residents shouldn't count on more hearings.

"I think there might be a vote," he said.