WESTFIELD, NJ — The town council on Tuesday discussed a proposal that would permit a wireless carrier to install a cell tower at the Houlihan/Sid Fay Field Complex in exchange for the company expanding parking and installing other amenities there.
What follows is an FAQ from the town about the project. It describes the municipality's official position on the proposal and its planned steps forward.
1. What prompted the Town to consider proposals to erect a cell tower near Houlihan/Sid Fay Field Complex?
On Feb. 5, 2021, the Town of Westfield received a letter from AT&T asking the town to consider allowing a cell tower to be erected in Westfield near the railroad tracks adjacent to Houlihan/Sid Fay fields. AT&T advised that the cellular network coverage in the area is inadequate, and that certain public safety benefits would result from improved coverage as well.
Because we think this is an opportunity to improve safety while improving the facilities without cost to the town, the town council is contemplating the following next steps:
Bringing on a consultant, at no cost to the town, who has expertise in negotiating cell tower agreements to assist in crafting the RFP.
Based on the recommendation of the consultant, issuing an RFP to wireless providers to see which can offer the best solution for Westfield.
2. What will the RFP propose?
In return for allowing a wireless provider to install a cell tower adjacent to the railroad tracks near Houlihan/Sid Fay fields, the town would require the wireless provider to pay for the proposed Houlihan/Sid Fay improvements recommended in the strategic parks plan. This would include covering the costs and overseeing the completion of expanded parking and new bathrooms.
3. Why is a cell tower needed in that location?
Wireless providers cited a need to improve service in the southeast section of town, specifically Lamberts Mill to Willow Grove Road and Clifton Street, inclusive of Tamaques and Jefferson Elementary Schools. These areas have been identified by at least one major carrier as having wireless service gaps, specifically in the interiors of homes and buildings, which has been confirmed by residents and our first responders, who would benefit from the improved reliability of our emergency response network that boosting coverage would enable.
4. What evidence is there that coverage is lacking and exactly where?
Based on network monitoring of AT&T's existing network, there currently exists coverage deficiency in the area surrounding Jefferson Elementary School, including areas of West Grove Street, Clifton Street, Summit Avenue, Montauk Drive, Dunham Avenue, Carleton Road, Mohawk Trail, Oneida Drive, North Cottage Place, Tice Place as well residential homes throughout this area.
5. What improvements would we propose be made to Houlihan/Sid Fay?
The proposal would ask that the wireless provider pay for and implement the Park Improvement Recommendations from the Strategic Parks Plan as follows:
- Add site and security lighting
- Add accessible walkways to all features
- Expand the parking lot and add a second entrance
- Add security cameras to improve safety and deter vandalism
- Add a restroom building with storage
- Add support amenities including a drinking fountain with bottle filler, Wi-Fi hotspots, trees, landscaping, site furnishings, and entrance signage
6. What are the current safety issues at Houlihan/Sid Fay?
The shortage of parking on busy days requires people to park their cars on Rahway Ave, forcing families to walk on the side of this busy road to get to the entrance. The lack of bathroom facilities has also forced residents to use the provided port-o-john on site or cross Rahway Ave to seek out restrooms at St. Helen’s Church.
7. How much parking would be added, and where?
The expanded parking offers a second entrance and potentially up to 77 new spaces.
8. What would the financial benefits be to the town?
The wireless provider would bear the full costs of the improvements. The concession arrangement would then also require that, after a grace period commercially commensurate with the cost of the improvements installed, the wireless company would also pay the town an annual lease payment at a rate to be negotiated for the remainder of the long-term lease period.
9. Where exactly would the cell tower go?
We would propose that the specific cell tower location be adjacent to the far side of the Houlihan/Sid Fay parking lot, abutting the railroad tracks and near the PSE&G substation on the Clark side of the tracks. See the dropped pin below for location reference.
10. Can the park improvements be made without putting in a cell tower?
These improvements could be made eventually at taxpayer expense, but due to budget limitations and competing priorities identified in the strategic parks plan, including the current initiative to advance the Edison School Athletic Complex, it could be many years before they would come to fruition.
11. What happens if we choose not to put forth a cell tower proposal?
If we choose not to move forward, the providers may consider going to an alternate site on private property, either in Westfield or directly across the tracks in Clark. This would improve the coverage but eliminate Westfield from being able to reap any of the investment or revenue benefits. It could lead to a “Garwood ShopRite” scenario in which we didn’t allow the store to be located in Westfield due to traffic concerns, so it was moved mere feet over the border into Garwood. We got stuck with the traffic and reaped no tax benefit. We anticipate that a future cell tower in the Houlihan/Sid Fay vicinity is inevitable. This proposal is an attempt to proactively maximize the benefits to the community.
12. What are the next steps in the process?
At the recommendation of the code review and property committee, the town will issue an RFP to bring on a consultant, at no cost, to advise the council on negotiations with interested wireless providers.
After work with the consultant is sufficiently advanced, the council will determine whether or not to issue an RFP out to cellular service providers.
If an RFP is issued, all provider responses will be thoroughly evaluated by the consultant and the town council prior to any decision on whether or not to move forward.
No contract will ultimately be awarded unless it is recommended by the consultant, passes muster with the Town governing body, and adequately addresses questions or concerns from neighbors, parents and the sports leagues.
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