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Residents oppose plan for two cellular towers

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Residents oppose plan for two cellular towers

Foes object to process for designating public land

The site, which does not need formal approval by the planning or zoning boards as the area is already zoned for cell tower use, was discussed at the planning board meeting Monday night.

“This is a somewhat unusual matter for the planning board in that it’s what you would call an informal review,” board chairman Tom Wilfrid said.

The board will make a recommendation to the township council, which will then decide whether to go ahead with the application of Cellco, better known as Verizon Wireless.

“One of the important questions the planning board is responsible for looking at is the appropriateness of the site,” Wilfrid added. “So this is the first step in what is envisioned at this point as a three-hearing process.”

But that very process was part of the objections raised by attorney Stuart Lieberman, who was representing nearby residents in their bid to block the cell tower plan.

“If you were just doing this for something like a municipal pool, I could understand,” Lieberman said, “but when you’re doing it for Verizon, it’s my position you need site approval.”

Taking township land acquired from a private owner for one purpose and handing it over to another private owner for a different purpose merits using the formal process, Lieberman argued. The land was acquired by the township from Bristol-Myers Squibb in 1992 and planned to be used for a fire or emergency substation.

“This was supposed to be a firehouse,” Lieberman said.

He also cited as a conflict of interest the probability the township would be paid for use of the land and that the company would not charge the township for use of the cell tower.

“Usually as an inducement, all companies will give you a free ride,” he said.

This would not have been the case if, as originally planned, the cell tower had gone on the property of Peterson’s Nursery on Lawrenceville Road.

In a unanimous decision in December, the zoning board decided to deny a change in zoning to construct the tower there. The day before the special zoning board meeting discussing the Cellco application, the township council voted to recommend the tower site be moved to Carter Road.

The recommendation was sent to the zoning board in the form of a letter from Township Manager Richard Krawczun, which was read into the record at the Dec. 19 meeting by special zoning board attorney David Roskos.

Police Capt. Mark Boyd said placing an antenna on the Carter Road tower would be a “golden opportunity” for the police to seal gaps in their radio coverage.

Before its application, Cellco had identified locations that would address gaps in cell phone service, then approached the owners of those properties. Peterson’s Nursery was the only place to say yes.

The third hearing will be necessary as the township’s radio frequency expert Christine Malone was called out of state on business and was unable to attend Monday’s meeting.

Contact Alex Zdan at [email protected] or (609) 989-5702.

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