Expert to Report on Tower Lowering Property Values
Board extends T-Mobile's application to February for a vote and more testimony.
Because the board did not have enough members at Tuesday's meeting to vote on the T-Mobile application for a 125-foot cell tower at the Green Knoll Volunteer Fire Co., the hearing has been extended to Feb. 21—providing enough time for the residents to bring in their own expert witness.
Resident Joseph Kirk spoke at Tuesday's meeting with a request to bring in an expert to speak to the negative impacts a cell tower could have on the values of nearby homes in Bridgewater. Other residents agreed, raising concerns about the appearance of the tower in the neighborhood.
Kirk initially requested an extension to do so at the August meeting, but was denied by the board.
"T-Mobile had objected, saying the process was taking too long and they couldn't afford to wait until Nov. 15 [for the testimony]," he said. "I was granted approval to wait until September for a report, but that was insufficient time for the expert."
From there, Kirk said, the application was postponed until Nov. 15 anyway, and then again until Dec. 6.
"In light of the extended delays and inequity served to the townspeople of Bridgewater, I ask that the board reopen the evidential case so my expert can prepare a report and give testimony of the negative impact of the tower," he said. "He would require 60 days to prepare the report with the holidays, and then he would be available for testimony."
"Citizen opposers have not caused a single delay, and the argument that T-Mobile would be prejudiced by a delay is wrong," he added.
T-Mobile attorney Greg Meese said there have not been many delays attributed to the company, only when new council was brought in and when there was an ecrow issue—in the latter case, T-Mobile had paid the escrow, but an expert for the board was not prepared.
As for the delay following the August meeting, Meese said, T-Mobile had put a hold on all its applications because of a proposed merger with AT&T. It was only recently, he said, that this site was taken off the hold, and a delay was requested until Dec. 6 because of the meeting of the League of Municipalities in Atlantic City.
"Mr. Kirk has had the opportunity for a year and a half to get the information, and he first informed the board of this at the August meeting, which was the conclusion of the hearing," he said. "I think if he had shown up with the information tonight, I would have been hard pressed to object."
According to board chairman William Vornehm, the next available meeting for an actual vote on the application—which couldn't be done Tuesday because T-Mobile was requesting a vote of the entire board and one member was unavailable because of illness—is Jan. 31, following a Jan. 17 reorganization meeting.
"Looking at the way we normally write the calendars, Jan. 31 would be the time," he said, acknowledging that the board does not technically have a schedule yet beyond its reorganization meeting.
But at that point, Vornehm said, they will already be close to the 60-day deadline for receiving a report from Kirk's expert witness.
"When Mr. Kirk came before the board originally, I was one of those who said no, I think we should proceed rather than wait given in part to how long this application has been already," said board member Donald Sweeney. "Since then, T-Mobile has postponed at least one hearing, and given that, Mr. Kirk should be allowed whatever time is necessary to bring the expert's report to bear."
The board decided to allow Kirk to bring testimony from his expert witness, provided he could give the documents to a witness determined by T-Mobile by two weeks before the next meeting date, Feb. 21.