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FH Sets Cell Tower Height Demo

By Shanna Williams

FAIR HAVEN - The zoning board has not made a final decision on an application by Verizon Wireless and Omni Point Communication, Inc. to construct a 125-foot cell tower at the Church of Nativity, 180 Ridge Road, but residents will have a chance to see exactly how high 125 feet is on July 22.

On that day, representatives for the cell tower applicant will position a crane at the 125 foot level to demonstrate the visual impact the cell tower would have.

The July 13 meeting was the first hearing for application by Verizon to build a cell tower on the church's property following a series of delays. The zoning board attorney, John Colannino explained that only four members of the zoning board did not have a conflict of interest in hearing the application. Peter Maher, chairman of the zoning board; Marianne Ficarra and Sonia Reevey, both members of the board, heard the case. Suzanne Gottuso, also a member of the zoning board, is eligible to hear the case, but was not present for the meeting. She will review the transcripts of the meeting and be prepared to vote on the application. John Christie, a member of the planning board, was appointed to sit on the zoning board for the Verizon application so the application could be heard by five members. "The statute provides that, in this situation, the most senior member, class four member of the planning board, is to be, shall I say, drafted to sit as a member of the board of adjustment," Colannino said.

Stuart Lieberman, who was hired by the borough council to represent the municipality at the zoning board application, asked before the hearing began that the testimony be delayed because copies of an expert report used by the applicant was not made available to the public before the hearing. The board decided that the application would proceed, but that the expert witness for the applicant would have to return for the next meeting to be cross- examined by Lieberman and the other attorneys representing residents.

Colannino explained that because the mayor and council decided to hire representation at the zoning board hearings, they would not be able to hear appeals by residents on the final decision made by the board. "In the event that the board approves the use variance that's being applied for, the statue and the local ordinance Fair Haven ordinance provides that any interested person may appeal that approval to the governing body, mayor and council, of Fair Haven," he said. However, because the council hired Lieberman, they could not act as an appellate body.

"I think it's premature to address that," Lieberman responded.

Warren Stillwell, attorney for the applicant, proposed to the members of the zoning board who heard the application that the applicant bring in a crane and set it up at the church to the proposed height of the cell tower. This way, residents will get an idea of how high the proposed tree-monopole cell tower will be. "What we do is we raise a crane to the height of the proposed tower and then people can drive around and see, visually, what the impact would be," Stillwell said.

David Padnes, a resident and attorney representing himself and his wife, said because it is the summertime, many residents are on vacation and would not be able to see the crane. "The visual impact should be available for as many residents as possible," he said.

The crane will be set up on July 22 beginning at 9 a.m. and is expected to be in place for about six hours. Stillwell said if the board finds it necessary, the crane could be set up on another date as well.

Daniel Collins, health and safety expert witness for the applicant, testified that the proposed cell tower meets all federal safety regulations.

Stuart Jacobs, a Fair Haven resident, asked if Collins lives near a cell tower.

Collins responded that he has a cell tower about 200 feet away from his home.

Peter Longo, professional engineer and expert for the applicant, talked about the tower itself and the accessory structures proposed. He said the entire cell tower site, a 60 foot by 60 foot area, would be surrounded by a six foot fence for safety purposes. In addition to the tower, an equipment shelter and a concrete slab, would be in the area.

A radio frequency engineer and a professional planner are scheduled to testify on behalf of the applicant. The hearings will continue at a special meeting on July 27 at 7 p.m.