CHATHAM, NJ - In November of last year, AT&T attorney Judy Fairweather promised: "I will come back with an army (of experts)" in her bid to convince the Zoning Board of Adjustment to grant multiple variances that would allow her company to install 12 cell antennas on the NJ American Water Tower on Buxton Road.
At the end of the meeting on Thursday, Fairweather all but sounded retreat after bowing to the request by residents, who asked that the next meeting be moved to Sept. 18. Many residents said they would be away in August on vacation. Public comment for or against the antennas will be presented at the September meeting before the board votes on the matter.
"I know you all hate me," Fairweather said. "Please don't yell at me. We will agree to the Sept. 18 date."
The FCC interpretation of the 2012 law concerning wireless communication, however, could make everything that's gone before this moot. According to section 6409 (a), the addition of cell antennas must be approved as long as they don't "substantially change the dimensions" of a tower or base tower.
Board attorney Stephen H. Shaw read into the record the FCC interpretation of the law regarding "substantial change" and it allows for four new pieces of equipment. AT&T is requesting five cabinets to be installed on the site to power the antennas.
"You are requesting five new cabinets and the language specifically allows for four," Shaw said.
Up to this point, AT&T has presented its case with Fairweather objecting to the combative questioning from tenacious Chatham Township residents from Buxton Road, Kincaid Lane and Huron Drive.
Fairweather's final witness, licensed planner Jim Dowling, presented a detailed review of the proposed AT&T plan to place 12 cell antennas on the 105-foot water tower behind 62 Buxton Road. The antennas would rise five feet above the top of the tower. AT&T is claiming there is a "gap" in its coverage and that the antennas would provide a benefit to the community, not a detriment.
Residents have countered those statements with assertions that there is no real gap in service and that the noise and view of the antennas in their neighborhood would be a detriment to their property values and aesthetics of the neighborhood.
"Residents are opposed to this location because AT&T can improve their service by using alternate and acceptable options, where as by granting these variances it would impair the intent and purpose of our master and zoning plans. Our land use ordinances specify where cellular equipment may be placed and that is not in an R-3 zone," Buxton resident Haylee Messing said.
"Residents oppose granting the variances because the benefits do not outweigh the detriments. Neighbors surrounding the proposed site will have to deal with the 24/7 noise pollution or mechanical humming from the fans needed to cool equipment, the negative impact the antennas will have on their property value (thereby decreasing the taxable income for the town), the increase of traffic on a narrow residential street, the aesthetics, and the impact on their already stressed electrical service."
Dowling heard some comments from board members, pointing out their skepticism about the benefits to the community. Board member Jon Weston pointed out that the residents "haven't left here saying what a great idea this is." Board member Thomas Polise noted that he hadn't heard one "complaint about gaps in coverage" in the eight months the hearing has been open.
According to Shaw, AT&T will need five affirmative votes from the board to gain approval of its variances.
Katie Weisgerber questions Dowling's account that the cell antennas would not be a detriment in video below