Cell tower hearing

Cell tower hearing

on hold till May 6
Zoning official says applicant is still
looking for a new site
Staff Writer
OLD BRIDGE — Plans by a leading wireless carrier to build a cell tower somewhere in the township will remain on hold until May 6.

The carrier, Omnipoint Communications Inc., is still looking for another location to build the 130-foot pole originally proposed for a site inside a Route 34 storage facility, said Kiran Desai, chairman of the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Omnipoint has a pending use variance application before the zoning board to place that tower and an accompanying equipment shed inside the Shurgard Storage Center, 158 Route 34 south.

The board hearing that was scheduled to continue on Thursday night was postponed for one month at Omnipoint’s request, Desai said.

It is the second time in as many months that Omnipoint asked for a continuance on the application, which has many neighbors of the storage facility concerned that the radiation emanating from the tower could adversely affect their health and cause terminal illnesses.

About 60 of those residents, mainly living in the vicinity of Amboy and Disbrow roads, have formed a grass-roots citizen activist organization called REACT (Residents Emerge Against Cell Tower) to fight Omnipoint’s plan for the Shurgard Storage site.

A number of those residents had expected to testify against the plan during the public portion of Thursday’s scheduled hearing. Board members would have possibly voted on the application following the public hearing, Desai said.

Now, both the public hearing and vote will have to wait until the next scheduled hearing on May 6 beginning at 8 p.m., Desai said.

Township zoning regulations also mandate that Omnipoint re-advertise the hearing in local newspapers prior to the new date so that neighbors can plan to attend the meeting, the board chairman said.

Omnipoint’s representatives testified during a Jan. 8 hearing, running up against the board’s mandated 11 p.m. curfew and postponing the public portion that night.

At that point, Desai and the board’s legal counsel advised residents that they could testify and question Omnipoint’s representatives at the next scheduled hearing on March 4.

One day before that date, Omnipoint asked the board for a 30-day extension via a faxed letter from its lawyer, Gregory J. Czura of Ringwood. Czura indicated that his client was searching for alternate sites in the vicinity of the Shurgard Storage location.

Though some REACT members already knew of Omnipoint’s sudden postponement, they still attended the board meeting to ask that they be notified several days in advance of any future continuance.

This time, Omnipoint did contact the township a few days prior to Thursday’s date, Desai said. In turn, the residents were notified by township planning office employees right away, he added.

REACT Secretary Kevin Pruneau confirmed that a handful of the organization’s members were contacted by township workers once Omnipoint postponed. Those members in turn printed a flier with that news to distribute to other neighbors living near Amboy and Disbrow Roads.

Between now and the next hearing, REACT members will continue to work out a strategy just in case the wireless company stays with its original plan.

The second postponement could be a stalling tactic on the part of Omnipoint, Pruneau said. However, he said such delays will not discourage REACT from speaking against the tower.

Nonetheless, Pruneau believes that Omnipoint really is looking for another site.

"We’re somewhat optimistic and we believe these delays are for the better," Pruneau said.

Omnipoint’s plans show that the monopole, which would feature 12 antennas on its highest point, could be leased to as many as four other wireless carriers.

The tower would be located inside a 55-by-50-foot unmanned compound that would include a small equipment shed, Omnipoint has said.

Omnipoint is asking the township for several use variances for the command center’s floor area ratio and for the landscaping.

If Omnipoint returns before the board with a different site for its tower, the board might have to hear the entire application again, depending upon whether use or bulk variances are needed for that new location, Desai has said.