The saga involving a T-Mobile application for a 130-foot cell tower to be installed at the Green Knoll Volunteer Fire Company continued at Tuesday’s zoning board of adjustment meeting, as real estate appraisal professionals from both sides took turns discussing whether or not they believed property values of nearby homes would be affected.
Robert Heffernan, a real estate appraiser speaking on behalf of resident Joseph Kirk in opposition to the proposed tower, continued his argument that property values would decline in the surrounding area if the application were to be approved and the tower built.
“The tower on fire company property being proposed here this evening is going to be 130 feet [tall] in an area where there is nothing that goes higher than 70 feet,” Heffernan said. “People are going to pay a difference for properties that are proximate to those towers.”
“In my discussions with realtors,” he added, “I have never heard a realtor who has had a person ask them if they could have a house near a communications tower.”
Called into question several times throughout Tuesday’s meeting, though, was Heffernan’s study regarding the impact of similar towers around New Jersey on property values in their respective areas. T-Mobile attorney Greg Meese, after being granted permission to do so at the prior meeting, brought in his own property appraisal expert, Mark Tinder, of Somerville.
Tinder explained that, after reviewing Heffernan’s study, he found several discrepancies that flawed the reasoning behind Heffernan’s assessment that the proximity of existing cell phone towers was responsible for lower property values. One example of this is Tinder’s opinion that Heffernan did not use a large enough sample size or factor in other possible external influences when weighing property values of tower-proximal homes to those not in proximity.
“Doing an analysis of one home against another home is problematic," he said. "For one thing, if you start with a much higher price and try to adjust those two down to one another, there’s a price bias, in my opinion, that makes it difficult to make a valuable analysis. Multiple comparable sales being used to adjust to a subject property makes for much more comparable data.”
“If you take several different sales, at least three comparable sales, that would tend to even out any discrepancies," he added. "One sale does not a market make."
Tinder went on to explain that other factors—not just cell phone or utility monopoles—could have the potential to alter property values at any given time.
One example Tinder used was that of a home on Valley Wood Drive in Franklin Township that Heffernan referenced in his report. Tinder revealed the home to be adjacent to the back parking lot of one of the township’s religious centers.
Meanwhile, Tinder stated that a comparable property at Renoir Way in Franklin—one that sold for almost $75,000 more—is situated next to 30 acres of open space.
“The issue is to try to isolate the impact, if any, of an external influence, but we know of two other external influences that exist,” he said. “They are external factors that call in to question whether or not the analysis is truly doing what it reports to be doing.”
Tinder also stated that market values are not necessarily driven down by factors such as nearby utility monopoles, noting that several homes he has appraised throughout the state that have been proximal to utility or cell phone towers have shared similar market values—which they later sold for—to those not in proximity. The most similar example of this given by Tinder related to a home in Randolph, which is located near a fire company with an almost-identical monopole to the one proposed in Bridgewater.
The home, located at 27 Wilkinson Drive in Randolph, was appraised with four other similar homes to fall within a market value ranging from $505,000 to $522,000. In the end, the home in question sold for more [$515,000] than its market value [$512,000] despite being proximal to a cell phone monopole.
From seeing this and other examples, Tinder said that it is not necessarily a monopole or other external influences that will drive the market value of a home down. Often times, he said, those looking to buy a home will come to their own determinations about how much a particular property is worth.
“I’ve been to enough of these hearings to know that I’ve heard a number of people express opposition to [cell phone towers] or concerns about them," he said. "I have to believe that there are some people in the home-buying public who are predisposed against these towers. However, a willing buyer and willing seller get together and agree on a price, and they close on that price. Ultimately, what happens is the people who are not concerned about being near a tower or having a partial tower view pay the market value for these homes.”
The hearing for this application, which will include input from the public, is expected to continue at the next zoning board meeting April 3. The meeting will be held at the Bridgewater Municipal Complex at 7:30 p.m.