Business & Finance

Montville Historic Preservation Review Commission Decries Towaco Cell Phone Tower

Towaco resident Shawn Gilfedder addresses the Montville Historic Preservation Review Commission: (from left to right) Tracy Shuly, Yumi Pak, Meta Janowitz, Dan Grant, Michael O’Brien, and Shawn Ruby. (Out of range of photo:  member Richard Gamsby) Credits: Melissa Benno

MONTVILLE, NJ - About 15 community members attended the meeting of the Historic Preservation Review Commission at the municipal building on March 23, where community input was solicited for the HPRC’s information letter to be sent to Verizon’s environmental consulting firm.

Approximately three weeks ago it was revealed to the public via an advertisement in the Daily Record newspaper that Verizon is planning to erect a new tower on the grounds of the Towaco Fire Department on Whitehall Road, to replace the department’s current communications tower and Verizon wishes to add cellular telephone antennas to the new structure.  (For further information, read about the Towaco Fire Commissioners’ meeting last week HERE.)

Why Historic Review?

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As part of the procedural requirements for building the structure, Verizon’s environmental consulting agency, EBI, contacted Montville’s HPRC, requesting a “106 Review.”  The 106 Review is part of the National Historic Preservation Act’s safeguard against a new structure affecting the historic properties in its proximity, according to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s website. 

HPRC Member Meta Janowitz explained to attendees, “When cell towers are constructed, they have to follow the environmental review process and historic preservation is part of that process.  They ask for comments from historical societies or HPRCs and they’re supposed to include those comments in their report to their client, saying, ‘If you build a tower here, these are the problems you’re going to have with this location.’  The ‘problems’ include both environmental and historical preservation concerns. The client can either listen to the consulting firm or not, as far as the recommendations for building, but if they do decide to build there, then they have to follow all of the regulations of the National Historic Preservation Act.  The environmental concerns are separate from the preservation concerns.  So we can’t really speak to those.  The big concern is what effect will this very tall tower have on what we call the ‘viewscape’ of the historic properties.  Will you be able to see it from the Doremus House [on Main Road]?  Will you be able to see it from the Morris Canal?  It’s only about 80 feet from the canal.  Is the proposed construction going to have an adverse effect on the canal as it exists today?  At some point there’s a plan to have a greenway where you can walk along the canal.  But meanwhile, we have to protect what’s left of the canal so it doesn’t deteriorate any further.”

HPRC Chairman Michael O’Brien stated that the Towaco Civic Association has begun a committee to plan a greenway along the Montville portions of the Morris Canal, stating, “If we do want to make improvements, we will then be ‘stuck’ with this tower in a location right along the canal.”

Janowitz commented, “We would like to see this whole area improved, but we can only comment on the site as it appears now.”

“Although that resource has not yet been developed, I’m looking to the future,” stated O’Brien.

Janowitz further explained that the HPRC’s comments are not the same as a recommendation:  “We are just being asked for an opinion here.  This didn’t come from the zoning board, board of adjustment, or the planning board.  We can give a ruling only when it comes to us from the town.  This didn’t come to us from the town.”  She further recommended to attendees that they contact the Federal Communication Commission to express their concerns about the project (see more information HERE).

Public Testimony

Several Towaco residents came to the podium to address the commission, all against the building of the cellular tower.

Shawn Gilfedder stated, “As a long-time Northern New Jersey resident, I revel in the fact that Morris Canal is a national landmark and that’s quite impressive.  An important part of this commission is to consider not just today but the opportunities to share our history and our heritage with our children.

“There are other options for the fire department [to improve their communications].  A lot of our comments at the [Towaco Fire Commissioners’] meeting last week gave them pause.  I find it shocking that no one is here from Towaco Fire Department,” concluded Gilfedder.

Vincent Fialla stated, “The purpose of this group is to balance development with the protection of the canal.  The absolute opposite of that would be a 126-foot monopole cell tower.  We’re not talking about providing necessary housing, a park, or a path which would require some infringement around a historic site.  [The tower’s] sole purpose is profit and money.  This is an important issue to the residents of Towaco who enjoy the setting we live in.  A 126-foot monopole with its blinking lights is as disruptive as it comes to not just the setting of our town but the historic sites that are around it.  I find it hard to balance that type of structure with these types of sites.”

Naomi Adelberg stated, “We moved here from Boston, because of the charm of Montville.  We love it.  There’s an ambience here and that cell tower will destroy that entire ambience. That tower is so incongruent not just to our community but to our town.”

Chair Opinion and Next Steps

Upon the closure of the public comment portion of the discussion, O’Brien stated that the 106 Review is a part of the process of construction because not only birds and streams are subject to destruction, historic structures are also in jeopardy, maybe more so because once they are destroyed, they will never come back.  Commission members explained to the public that although the canal is not functioning as a canal and is listed on maps as “abandoned,” it does in fact still exist.

“We have within 200 feet of the proposal, an historic structure of great importance, the Morris Canal,” stated O’Brien.  “[This tower] would be impacting the ambience of [the town].  We’re making an unnecessary intrusion on a setting that people care about with an historic value.  It’s not like a traffic light which is necessary for safety.  I don’t see that here.

“If that pole goes in, it’s there to stay,” continued O’Brien.  “I think it’s important that we make it clear that this is an unnecessary intrusion that does impact the viewscape, in the most strongly worded way.”

The HPRC decided with an unanimous vote among those present to send Verizon’s consulting firm (EBI) an email within the next couple of days stating that historic sites would be impacted by the tower, to be followed by correspondence listing the sites within a half-mile radius of the project.

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