Residents, Chatham Township Committee Give T-Mobile Earful on River Road Cell Tower; Attorney Addresses Rolling Knolls Status
Friday, August 17, 2012 • 12:54am
CHATHAM, NJ—A number of Chatham Township residents as well as members of the township committee had a message for the T-Mobile communications company—make every effort to find an alternative to 610 River Road for your temporary cellphone tower location or don’t bother asking our community to approve your plans.
The mobile communications company has received approval from the Chatham Township Board of Adjustment to locate a temporary tower on the River Road residential property—but that approval is contingent on approval by the township committee of the use of a conservation easement on the property for the 150-foot tower.
T-Mobile representatives told the governing body on Thursday that, if they are going to consider location of the tower at an alternative site suggested by township officials—near the playground at Esternay Field—they will have to find a source of electrical power—perhaps a generator—and ready access to telephone transmission equipment.
The temporary tower is necessary because Public Service Electric & Gas Co., which owns several towers on which T-Mobile and other carriers house their transmission equipment is building larger electrical transmission towers in Chatham and many nearby communities and has told the cellphone companies to relocate their equipment for up to two years while the new towers are constructed.
Richard Skolnick, an attorney representing T-Mobile, said his clients had studied the Esternay site at the request of Chatham Township Attorney Carl Woodward and Business Administrator Thomas E. Ciccarone and found their pole would be “marginally more visible” to certain residents in the area of the playground site.
Skolnick also said that, from his clients’ study of the site on Thursday evening during the township committee meeting they could not determine if there was a telephone connection close enough to the site to make connection feasible.
He also said he was “99 percent sure” an electrical source could be provided at the Esternay site with the use of a generator.
However, Township Engineer John Ruschke and Woodward said it was possible to run electrical lines along a driveway leading up to an area where a temporary pole could be located near the playground site and telephone connections also were available nearby.
Without the generator, however, Skolnick argued, T-Mobile would have to receive easements from Jersey Central Power & Light and Texas Eastern to cross the T-Mobile electrical equipment over the electrical and gas utilities’ lines on the site.
This, he said, could take months when Public Service has said T-Mobile must be off its towers by the beginning or middle of September.
In addition, he warned not having the cellphone transmission lines in a temporary location by the PSE&G deadline could mean the dropping of up to 20 9-1-1 emergency calls per month that originate in Chatham Township.
He also claimed the conservation easement at the 610 River Road site had not been formally recorded when the site was developed for a four-home subdivision, around 13 years ago.
Woodward replied that since the filed map for the River Road site clearly shows the conservation easement that means the easement is properly recorded with the title papers for the site.
Ciccarone also said many of the 9-1-1 calls could be picked up by a temporary cellphone tower that would be located near the municipal building.
He added Public Service could make no guarantee that T-Mobile would have space on one of its new towers, meaning the firm would have to come back to the zoning board to get an extension on its approval.
Skolnick, replying to another question from the business administrator, said he could not know for sure the identity of the T-Mobile customers from whose cellphones the estimated 20 9-1-1 calls originated.
Both Mayor Nicole Hagner and Committeeman Bailey Brower, Jr. said the cellphone carrier had been given plenty of time to find alternatives to the residential site but “had not done their homework.”
Although Brower said the governing body had to be careful not to overrule the quasi-judicial resolutions of the all-volunteer zoning board, he added the township committee could not ignore the wishes of 80 residents who had signed petitions against the proposed tower.
Resident Nick Mazza of 604 River Road presented a plat map and other documents he said came from the original application for the subdivision and proved the existence of the conservation easement.
He added a relative who is in the real estate business in Chatham told him the location of the cell tower at 610 River Road, which is adjacent to his property, could decrease the value of his property by about 20 percent.
Mazza also said the developer of the subdivision offered to sell him a portion of the property in return for his support in winning township approval for the subdivision.
He noted he was told that he would be able to do practically nothing with the piece of land because it contained a conservation easement.
“Something has failed if such a tower is allowed to be constructed on residential property in a town that has so many restrictions on what you can do with your property,” said Stacey Ewald of 54 Nicholson Drive.
She added there was no guarantee that T-Mobile would have to restore the conservation easement to the same condition it found it after the two-year use of the site for the temporary tower was finished.
Woodward replied the governing body could put such a restoration provision in any agreement it made with the cellphone carrier over use of the easement.
River Road residents Barbara Veter and Carol Mazza said they feared water runoff conditions, which already are bad in the area, would get worse if the cellphone tower is built on the easement.
Brower said he would not vote to approve any agreement with T-Mobile until he was certain the company had explored all alternatives to the River Road site.
Skolnick said he would study the Esternay site further with the firm’s engineers and come back to the governing body with a proposal soon in order to meet the PSE&G deadline.
The township committee took no action on the T-Mobile proposal and, therefore, according to Woodward, this precludes use of the River Road site because governing body approval of the use of the conservation easement is needed in order to locate the tower there.
On another matter, the township attorney made several points about the Rolling Knolls landfill, a former garbage dump that was designated as a federal Superfund cleanup site about 10 years ago and about which a number of complaints recently have surfaced.
He pointed out, and Hagner emphasized strongly, that there have been no fires at the site in about 20 years.
Brower, in comments in a recent article by The Alternative Press about the site, said he recalled underground fires there a number of years ago that burned for some time but, it was believed destroyed many chemicals originally found on the site.
Woodward added a “significant portion” of the 180-acre site was part of the Great Swamp and not located in the landfill. He said no spill remediation was needed in that area.
He noted the federal Environmental Protection Agency now has jurisdiction over the site, which functioned as a garbage dump for about 30 years prior to being closed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in 1969.
The site, according to the attorney, was a pre-existing, non-conforming use that predated the Chatham Township zoning laws.
He added the EPA is conducting a remedial investigation on the site in conjunction with three “potentially responsible parties” and the agency is expected to issue a Record of Decision on the results of its investigation at the end of this year or sometime next year.
Woodward also said the recommended solution for the site might be “capping” the landfill.
This often involves installing a cover often made of layers of sand, soils and plastic liners. It separates the landfill contents from nearby water and/or soil and reduces potential risks to human and the environment.
Responding to recent charges of illegal dumping at the site, the township attorney said the EPA and Arcadis, the company hired by the federal agency to study the site, have found no evidence of such activity.
He added, however, the township continues to investigate any reports made to it.
Woodward also noted the inadvertent inclusion of Rolling Knolls on the township ordinance to allow residents to raise produce in “market gardens” for sale to local produce dealers had been corrected.
That corrected ordinance was further modified on Thursday to correct an incorrect lot and block number for Rolling Knolls.
The attorney added that, contrary to reports recently circulated in the township, farmland assessments allowing for a lesser tax impact are limited to plots of five acres or more used strictly for farming. The assessments are not allowed for plots of three acres or more and, if a residence is located on a plot of land that also has a farmland assessment the residence is taxed normally.
Brower noted, however, that he continued to believe the Superfund designation was not proper for the site. He noted to cover a 200-acre landfill would require “dump trucks lined up from the township to Philadelphia and this would make the town a mess.”
He did, however, congratulate The Alternative Press on what he called its recent “well-balanced” and “reasoned” article about the landfill.
On another matter, the business administrator announced the township skate park now is closed due to insurance liabilities caused by its disrepair and it would cost about $50,000 to make the needed repairs.
Also, Committeewoman Kathy Abbott announced the township would be applying for Safe Routes to School grants to provide for sidewalks between Lafayette Avenue and Fairview Avenue and Lafayette Avenue to Shunpike Road in the vicinity of Lafayette School, on the south side of Southern Boulevard near the Southern Boulevard School and from Noe Avenue to Cougar Field.
She also said the sign on the Longwood entrance to the high school would be improved and footpaths would be installed leading up to some schools that currently do not have sidewalks.
The governing body also introduced an ordinance that will result in four-way stop intersections on Floral and School Avenues.
Ruschke said the township probably would submit applications for state grants under both the department of transportation and Safe Routes to School programs in order to win approval for many of the projects.
He added a first priority for DOT grants will be improvements to River Road.