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Resident: Board Hasn't Considered Property Values

Joe Kirk is collecting funds to pay for a real estate appraiser to testify against the T-Mobile cell tower.

For many residents opposing the proposed at the , one of the most important issues is one that hasn’t yet been addressed.

Resident Joe Kirk has hired Robert Heffernan, a licensed real estate appraiser, to investigate what the proposed tower could do to property values, and he will provide a report at the Feb. 21 zoning board meeting.

“I saw two gaping holes in the T-Mobile presentation,” Kirk said. “One was challenging the town planning testimony, and the other was the board’s failure to bring in the real estate issue, which has been the basis for supporting details.”

“So I took it upon myself to do it,” he added.

T-Mobile originally came before the zoning board in August 2010 to present a proposal for a 125-foot cell tower at the Green Knoll Volunteer Fire Company. Testimony has continued for more than a year.

Kirk said he originally asked the board to allow him to bring Heffernan in for testimony in August, but the board declined, opting to try not to drag out the hearing. But after several delays on the part of T-Mobile, the board agreed in December to allow him to bring in the expert.

“To my mind, an important piece of information is missing,” he said. “Whether this is the key, I don’t know, but I do think it’s important criteria that needs to be brought before the board.”

“Then it is in the hands of the board of whether they believe the evidence is compelling,” he added. “If they believe Heffernan and believe his testimony is persuasive and compelling, that’s another piece of evidence on the side of the negative.”

To bring in the expert, Kirk said, he has put a call out to any residents willing to help pay the costs of hiring Heffernan. Although he declined to say how much the appraiser's fees are, Kirk said he is collecting funds to hopefully avoid having to pay it all out of his own pocket.

At this point, Kirk said, about 15 families have contributed.

“My wife and I began the process as the driving force,” he said. “We sent emails to people who previously agreed to provide money when we first started this process in August 2011. We sought for people to make pledges of money if we could get the extension from the board.”

“We have collected some money, and we made a letter drop with neighbors plus knocking on doors to begin generating some funds to help offset the costs of the lawyer fees,” he added. “That’s where we’re at right now.”

Kirk said he sent emails to his local neighbors, another neighbor knocked on doors and still others have been contacted about possible participation.

“We have had a fairly good response rate,” he said. “Despite everything, all politics are local, and this is as local as it gets.”

And Heffernan, Kirk said, will be submitting his report to the T-Mobile professionals Feb. 7.

Kirk said he and his wife have opened a special bank account at the TD Bank in the Finderne section of town, under the name Bridgewater Residents ACT [Against Cell Tower].  He said they will pool all the donated money together to pay the appraiser's fees.

“Then we will close the account and any excess funds will be given back to residents,” he said. “We are keeping a close record of whoever donates so we know how to return the money. This is merely a fund collection on our part.”

And in addition to emails and home visits, resident Stacey Friedlander has set up a Facebook group to inform more people about the request for funds.

“I decided to start the Facebook page because I really felt that I had a lot of information because I am lucky enough to live on the same street as Joe Kirk,” she said. “But in speaking with other residents, I am finding people in the immediate area of the fire company who have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Friedlander said she believes there are probably other residents living near the fire company who would be interested in hearing how the case is going and want to get involved in understanding the status of the hearings.

“I feel that Facebook is a great networking tool for this,” she said. “There needs to be some other people working proactively to help disseminate the information.”

“I am trying to really help out, raise awareness,” she added.

Currently, there are two members in the group, called “Bridgewater Residents Against T-Mobile Cell Tower,” but the group is open.

“If people understand, maybe they will know there is a website they can go to where they can get the information, stay up-to-date and find out what they can do to help,” Friedlander said.

Kirk said the issue of property values is an important one, and one he wants to make sure is not overlooked in the testimony.

“There have been cases where the decision to uphold the denial of a cell tower has been not necessarily totally hinged on evidences of property values, but that has been part of the reason,” he said. “There have been cases where residents have brought forth testimony of real estate agents and so the board has denied variances for cell towers.”

Kirk said that when he has listened to professionals with T-Mobile speaking about the tower and the use of the SICA balancing test to determine if the positives outweigh the negatives of building the tower, nothing has been said about property values.

“All of it needs to be piled up on one side of the ledger and then balanced,” he said. “The way I see Heffernan’s testimony is I think it is important in terms of the negative criteria the board should know about. Then they can properly align on one side all the negative criteria.”

Kirk said he also hopes that getting people involved will bring the issue to the forefront again because the application has been dragging on for so long.

“Interest has waxed and waned over time, and we’re in the home stretch now,” he said, adding that the board has already listened to public comment on the application as a whole, but will open it up again after the new testimony is heard. “This is the first time I have ever gotten involved in a public debate like this, and I think this is something important and necessary for the board to hear.”

“I think this is important enough that I’m willing to stick my neck out,” he added. “I hope it is sufficient enough to come to a decision that the variance should not be granted.”

Kirk will be collecting money in the account until around Feb. 28, following the next T-Mobile hearing when Heffernan will testify.

To contribute to the payments, checks should be made out to Bridgewater Residents ACT. They can be sent to c/o Joe Kirk, 6 Overlook Drive, Bridgewater, NJ 08807.

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