After nearly two years of deliberation, hearings and testimony, the Bridgewater Township Zoning Board of Adjustment ruled 4-3 Tuesday to deny an application from T-Mobile for a 130-foot cell tower at the Green Knoll Volunteer Fire Company.
The decision was met with applause from the residents in attendance, who came out strongly against the application with a variety of concerns. Chief among those concerns was the impact a 130-foot cell phone tower would have on the aesthetics and overall character of the surrounding neighborhoods.
“A lot of the firemen will not see it every single day, except for when they call into work,” said Gail Naughton, of Eddy Lane. “The residents will, every single day.”
“I think we can all agree that continued growth and improvements are necessary,” added resident Fran Hozeny. “Unfortunately, this can often bring unwelcome change that significantly impacts our environment and immediate surroundings.”
Others were concerned about the resale value of their homes. Many speculate that cell phone towers and other such structures actually reduce property values when placed near residential homes.
“Would you buy a house there, close to the proximity? This is what it’s going to look like,” said resident Barry Walker, who presented a diagram to the zoning board to represent the differences between the sizes of the homes in the neighborhood and the height of the proposed cell tower. “It’s an eyesore. It’s a problem, and there are other methods to solve this problem.”
Some of those, including using Distributed Antenna System (DAS) technology, were dismissed by T-Mobile, despite having been used effectively to provide coverage to cell phone users in other municipalities. Experts for T-Mobile have said at past meetings that the DAS technology will not provide the same level of coverage as a tower would.
“T-Mobile, right away, didn’t even want to talk about those. They said that technology doesn’t work,” said zoning board member James Scott, who voted against the application. “Later, our engineer said he talked to other municipalities and found that the distributive devices may work and he would be willing to take a look at it.”
This point was echoed by board chairman William Vornehm who, despite voting in favor of the application, believed that alternative coverage sources could have been investigated more deeply by T-Mobile.
“I think that there is probably a different technology,” he said. “We cannot dictate technology, necessarily, but I can see where allowing or investigating other technologies would have been a better situation.”
Fellow board member Donald Sweeney voted in opposition of the application, stating that its negative impacts on the community, if approved, were enough reason to turn T-Mobile away. Sweeney also noted that, in his opinion, the only positive impact of a cell tower in the proposed location would be to provide T-Mobile users with slightly expanded coverage at the expense of nearby residents.
“I have to conclude that, on balance, the proposed tower does pose a substantial detriment to the public good,” he said.
Not everyone on the board felt that way. Board member Pushpavati Amin, who voted in favor of the application, said that the potential impact of the project on the community has been overstated by many.
“The visual impact is not that great,” she said. “I’m not really convinced that the property values would go down with this particular tower going in.”
In the end, though, it was the residents who won out, all of whom at Tuesday night’s meeting seemed to agree that a better plan is in order for the next proposed T-Mobile project if the cell phone giant wants the application to pass.
“They are looking at this as, ‘What will solve the problem now?’ That is not a plan,” said resident Simone Gaunt. “That is a quick fix, and that’s a big problem when you’re coming into a residential area.”
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