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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Cell tower proposal toppled

By JENNIFER H. CUNNINGHAM
HERALD NEWS

LITTLE FALLS -- The Planning Board rejected a cell phone company's plan to build a cell tower in the Great Notch Fire Company's parking lot.

Board member Walter Kilpatrick introduced the motion to deny Omnipoint Communications' application at Tuesday night's special Planning Board meeting at Passaic Valley Regional High School.

Kilpatrick said the proposed 10,000-square-foot property is not big enough to accommodate the cell tower, and added that the cell phone company would need several variances.

"I believe that this site will be overwhelmed by this," Kilpatrick said at the meeting. "It provides a possible safety issue. Substantial variances would have to be changed and we are unwilling to do that."

But Joseph O'Neill, a lawyer representing Omnipoint at the meeting, said building the cell tower would close a gap in coverage, while enhancing municipal first responders' communication capabilities.

"We're improving the communications of (first responders)," O'Neill told the board. "Omnipoint is satisfying needs with the Fire Department, satisfying the needs of police and satisfying the needs of EMS."

Firefighters from the Great Notch Volunteer Fire Company said they were counting on using the revenue from the cell tower to offset their operating expenses. Firefighter Ray Klepar said the department would have to look at other ways to fund the company -- which may cut into firefighting.

"We have a need," Klepar said. "We gotta do what we gotta do."

Similar cell tower proposals have been turned down in Mahwah and Lincoln Park, according to local newspaper reports. But cell phone companies have won several appeals, overturning decisions in Leonia, Fair Lawn and Kinnelon.

Residents on both sides of the debate voiced their opinions to the board.

Ronald Gollhardt, who lives less than 400 yards from an existing cell tower on Sigtim Drive, said he hardly notices it and has not seen any health problems in himself, his wife or his cat.

"Some neighbors didn't even know it was there," he said. "I heard there is more danger in microwave ovens than in cell towers."

But another resident, Michael Glita, said property values would decrease if more cell towers were erected.

"I'm afraid of what impression people will get when they come into town and see that tower," he said.

Reach Jennifer H. Cunningham at 973-569-7162 or Cunningham@northjersey.com.