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June 14, 2007

Cell tower opponents say property values will fall

BY LIZ SHEEHAN
Correspondent
Zoning Board will continue hearing application Aug. 9

FAIR HAVEN - - Will having a 133-foot cell tower in a neighborhood lower the value of homes there?

Some residents who live near the Church of the Nativity on Ridge Road, where Verizon and Omnipoint Communications are seeking variances from the borough's zoning board to construct a tower, believe that it would cause their property values to drop, and they want the board to take that into consideration when deciding if the variances should be granted.

Ann Carey, a resident, told the borough Zoning Board at its June 7 meeting that from her experience in selling real estate, the value of the homes "is going to decline drastically" in the area of the cell tower.

William Stillwell, the applicant's attorney, challenged Carey and said he had a study that was submitted in evidence that showed this was not true and asked if she had a study supporting her position

Carey responded that she had attended a real estate seminar where it was stated that power lines, busy streets and cell towers lower the value of homes, with cell towers causing a 5 to 10 percent drop.

She also said that the study referred to by Stillwell was done in the section of Rumson where there was a public works yard already in the neighborhood in which a cell tower was placed, and that the area around Church of the Nativity did not have a similar situation.

Residents from the area also said that the overflow parking from the church on Sunday caused problems with visibility and safety when drivers are trying to enter Hance Road.

A copy of a 1988 resolution from the Planning Board that stated that the church was short 36 parking spaces and the board would retain the right to require that more spaces be added in the future, was given to the zoning board by opponents of the church site, who asked that the possible need for more space on the church property for parking be considered.

Another issue raised by many residents at the board meeting Thursday night, which lasted over four hours, was flooding in the area which they believe will be aggravated by construction of the pad needed for the cell tower.

Bruce Eisenstein, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia, who is an expert in radio frequency and was retained by the board, said that the information supplied by the applicant on the level of cell phone service had shown that there was a need for a cell tower in the area, but it did not have to be at the church and could be placed in another site around 1,000 feet from Nativity.

He also said that the height of the tower was "the lowest they [the applicants] could go."

Eisenstein said under federal law, the tower could not be turned down due to fears about health effects it might have. The law was framed to encourage the development of cell service in the country, he said.

The meeting Thursday was one of a series on the cell tower application held by the zoning board. Another meeting has been scheduled for Aug. 9.

At that meeting, Stuart Lieberman, an attorney hired by the Borough Council to oppose the application, will present witnesses to testify before the board.

While the hearings for the Verizon application have been going on, the borough has sought to find a site for a cell tower that it would control.

After being turned down by the state Department of Environmental Protection when it wanted to swap land and put a tower in Fair Haven Fields on property acquired through the state's Green Acres program, the council is now negotiating with Christ Church United Methodist, on Ridge Road near Fair Haven Fields, to put a tower on its property.