Zoners review cell tower plan

Board skeptical that new cell tower is needed.

By: Matthew Kirdahy
   The Zoning Board of Adjustment is skeptical that a proposed cell tower for the township’s agricultural zone is needed.
   Omnipoint Communications is seeking a variance to build a 150-foot tower in Cranbury’s agricultural zone. A variance is needed because structures in that area are not permitted to be more than 35 feet high.
   The board heard the application Wednesday. The discussion will continue March 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.
   Zoning board Chairman Dale Smith said the board expects to see a more detailed presentation from Omnipoint to back up its claim that the company’s existing tower on Station Road east of Route 130 is not sufficient and that another tower is needed.
   According to an application on file at the Planning and Zoning Office, the tower would be placed on a 6-acre tract adjacent to the 36-acre Toscano farm, 440 feet from Plainsboro Road in the township’s A-100 zone.
   If approved, this tower would be the sixth one in Cranbury, but the first in the A-100 agricultural zone.
   Zoning in the area prohibits cell towers unless affixed to existing towers, water tanks, standpipes and church steeples. Existing towers, water tanks, standpipes and steeples may be rebuilt or replaced to allow additional antennas to be affixed.
   According to the zoning, the rebuilt or replaced tower must be substantially the same as the tower or structure it replaces. An existing tower may be extended an additional 26 feet as long as it does not exceed the maximum height specified elsewhere in the ordinance. In addition, structures in the zone cannot exceed 35 feet in height.
   Omnipoint also has a tower east of Route 130 on Station Road, just east of the N.J. Turnpike. The 150-foot monopole was approved by the zoning board in February 1999.
   Omnipoint engineer Richard Harding presented the board with a map depicting the coverage area of the existing cell towers and the coverage area of the proposed tower. He said the proposed tower would guarantee clear reception throughout Cranbury.
   Township Engineer Cathy Marcelli says Omnipoint made a similar claim in 1999.
   "I just find the theory that you’ll need another tower to have complete coverage hard to swallow," she said.
   Other cell towers in Cranbury are on Half Acre Road, Dey Road, near the border of East Windsor and behind the Cranbury firehouse. All are owned by separate companies.
   Tom White of Omnipoint said he looked at properties in the northwest part of town near Petty and Plainsboro roads, but none could accommodate the proposed monopole.
   "One of our goals was to keep away from residential neighborhoods," Mr. White said. "There were no other viable sites in that area. Most of the area we chose is protected farmland and there are few if any residences expected. For us, this was a definite plus."
   Mr. White did not know specifically how many sites were considered other than the proposed site. Mr. O’Neill said Omnipoint would return with those numbers at the next meeting.
   No matter the location, some residents oppose the tower.
   Carol Beaver said she lives on Plainsboro Road adjacent to the proposed site. She said she did not want to see the tower.
   "If you look at the language in the Master Plan, preserving the scenic vistas is the primary objective of the township," resident Connie Bauder said. "It’s about preserving the historic character of town and the hard edge of Cranbury’s village."
   Daniel Collins of Omnipoint said the amount of radiation generated by the tower is 900 times below the limit mandated by the Federal Communications Commission.