Business & Finance

Chatham Township Zoning Board Votes Against Appeal of Cell Antennas Ruling to NJ Supreme Court

Stephen H. Shaw, zoning board attorney, reads into the record his summary and recommendation on the legal case against AT&T Credits: TAP Chatham
The NJ American Water Company tower on Buxton Road, where AT&T will be attaching cell antennas Credits: TAP Chatham
Stephen H. Shaw, zoning board attorney, and Tony Vivona, board chairman Credits: TAP Chatham
Zoning board of adjustment board member Jon Weston decried the cookie-cutter legal approach that AT&T took in making its application Credits: TAP Chatham
Buxton Road area residents Haylee Messing, left, and Catherine Porter listen at the zoning board special meeting on Tuesday night Credits: TAP Chatham

CHATHAM, NJ - The fight to keep AT&T from attaching cell antennas to the NJ American Water Tower behind 63 Buxton Road in Chatham Township ended on Tuesday night when the zoning board of adjustment voted against an appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The zoning board of adjustment voted, 5-0, at its special meeting to end the appeal process on the recommendation of Stephen H. Shaw, board attorney.

"All of the legal principles, which were the basis of the court's decision, are existing Supreme Court decisions or long-standing appellate decisions," Shaw said. "As a result there are no new public issues for the Supreme Court to review."

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The legal battle began after the zoning board of adjustment voted, 6-1, on Oct. 16, 2014, to deny the application for variances by AT&T to place the cell antennas in a residential neighborhood.

AT&T appealed the decision in Morris County Superior Court and Judge Stuart A. Minkowitz ruled in favor of the Chatham Township Zoning Board of Adjustment, stating it had the right to deny AT&T's application for a variance in an Oct. 27, 2015 ruling.

But in February of 2016, the judge reversed his decision and ruled that the zoning board had not provided "sufficient evidence on record" to deny the variances and concluded that the board's denial was "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable." 

The Chatham Township Zoning Board of Adjustment appealed the decision, with the financial backing of Buxton Road area residents, and argued the case on May 9, 2017, in the Appellate Division of Superior Court. The case was ruled in favor of the plaintiff - AT&T - on Aug. 16.

Stephen H. Shaw, township zoning board of adjustment attorney, sums up the appellate ruling and reads into the record his recommendation to end the appeal process

One of the details in the case that went against the Chatham Township board was the testimony of appraiser Mark Tinder, who testified for AT&T that property values would not be hurt by placing the cell antennas in the residential neighborhood. Tinder's testimony was countered by local realtor Nancy Cook.

Judge Minkowitz said in his ruling that Tinder's testimony was rejected because of what was termed anecdotal evidence given by Cook. Chatham Township would have had a stronger case if it had presented its own appraisal witness to counter Tinder.

"I feel like we got bullied into this," Tony Vivona, chairman of the zoning board, said.

Zoning board member Jon Weston stated that he felt that it was an uphill battle all the way in fighting the cell company because of the "cookie cutter" approach in which the application was brought forward. Weston noted that the applicants have done this so many times that they were merely "checking the boxes" on what was needed for approval.

Zoning board chairman Tony Vivona said the board put a limitation on what the cell companies put up in Chatham Township


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