BRIDGEWATER, NJ - About 30 residents turned out to the July 20 Bridgewater Township Council meeting with concerns about the manner in which litigation with T-Mobile over a cell tower at the Green Knoll Volunteer Fire Company was handled.
In its initial application, T-Mobile was looking to build a 125-foot cell tower at the Green Knoll Fire Company, on North Bridge Street. In May 2012, the board of adjustment denied the application, and T-Mobile later filed suit, saying the board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.
A settlement, which was approved by the township in May, allows T-Mobile to build a tower at the Bridgewater Township Library, on Vogt Drive, instead.
According to the settlement, the township will amend the zoning code to allow a 150-foot tall monopole personal wireless facility at the library, on Vogt Drive. From there, the township will award a public bid to lease the land at the site for the construction of the monopole capable of collocating up to five wireless carries with external arrays of antennas, ground equipment and access.
T-Mobile has agreed that it will not apply for approval to construct a permanent tower facility within 2,500 feet of the Green Knoll Fire Company for a period of three years, and will not apply to construct one at the fire company for six years.
At Monday’s meeting, the council approved a resolution amending the settlement to outline timeframes for the application and building of the tower, as well as language that states if T-Mobile returns to the township with an application for another cell tower in the future, it will still be subject to the zoning regulations and ordinances that exist at the time of the filing of any new application.
But residents said they felt left out of the process of approving the settlement.
“Some 200 residents expressed their opposition early,” said Holmes Court resident Andrew Leven. “Twenty to 30 residents stayed in for the long haul of two years of zoning board hearings.”
“Another thing that happened was that the 20 to 30 residents who dragged themselves to hearing after hearing became stakeholders,” he added. “We fought hard, it was an exhausting fight. The zoning board’s rejection of a 120-foot cell tower was a real victory for the residents, and also a real victory for the zoning board.”
But then, Leven said, there was no effort to reach out to the stakeholders when it came time to work through the settlement.
“Instead we are simply informed that in return for having defeated a 120-foot cell tower at Green Knoll, we are instead getting a 150-foot one at the library,” he said. “We also were simply told, in the settlement agreement, of a second T-Mobile tower of unknown height and unknown location is coming, which the settlement agreement does not even make clear will be subject to the 2012 cell tower ordinance, and, we were told, there will be no opportunity in fact for residents or the planning board to even argue for the physical features of this tower.”
Leven said that because the stakeholders were not involved in the decision, it was not a win for the township.
A number of residents agreed.
“When I moved here six years ago, the first thing I got from the township was a letter about the cell tower,” North Bridge Street resident Simone Gaunt said. “I was part of the fight to know it would not be put across the street from my home. It’s bittersweet because now it’s down the street and in the town I live in.”
“The communication and the process that allowed this resolution to come to fruition is very concerning to me,” she added. “I feel it was an appeasement. We are giving up potentially a lot if we let them come in and if we let them take residence in our residential area.”
And North Bridge Street resident Robert Mcintire said he believes the tower will be an eyesore.
“I thought the cell tower was a dead issue, I guess I was wrong,” he said. “You are elected to protect the town, not T-Mobile. The tower is going to be intrusive and ugly.”
Council members said the township had to be careful in putting together the settlement for the tower because of federal regulations and more.
“Cell towers have a special spot in the law, and are somewhat protected,” council president Howard Norgalis said. “We spent a lot of time opining on this issue.”
Councilman Matthew Moench emphasized that there is federal law prohibiting townships from prohibiting cell towers in their towns.
“While this is by no means a perfect settlement, we settled litigation,” he said. “In this instance we were faced with two choices. We could proceed in litigation and spend money and possibly lose, which puts the tower in a residential area. If we won, nothing prevented T-Mobile from going to an adjacent residential area.”
“We have increased a source of revenue, and prohibited T-Mobile from coming in a certain radius,” he added. “And the tower is big enough so other carriers can go on and they won’t need other towers later.”
Township administrator James Naples said the new language in the settlement concerning requiring T-Mobile to adhere to all zoning regulations for future potential applications was actually added in on the basis of a request from a resident.
Moench emphasized that this was a legal matter the township was dealing with.
“When we are sued in federal court, we don’t consult the residents for how to finish it, we consult our legal team,” he said.