FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — In its final act before merging with the municipality’s Planning Board, the Freehold Township Zoning Board of Adjustment denied an application that sought a use variance in order to construct a cellular communications tower on property at 391 Monmouth Road (Route 537).
As 2015 ends, the Township Committee is expected to adopt an ordinance that will fold the zoning board into the Planning Board beginning in January. The Dec. 10 zoning board meeting during which an application from Verizon Wireless was considered was the panel’s final act.
Following the conclusion of testimony from professionals representing New York SMSA Limited Partnership (Verizon Wireless) and comments from people who live near the parcel where Verizon wanted to place a 120-foot-tall monopole, board members voted 7-0 to deny a use variance to the company.
Zoning board members said they took the comments of the neighbors into account as they deliberated on the application.
However, the issue of a new cell tower in this region of Freehold Township may not be over, as Verizon’s professionals have indicated a property at 363 Monmouth Road may be suitable for the equipment.
An application for a cell tower at that location is expected to come before the Planning Board in 2016, according to attorney Lynne Dunn, who represents Verizon.
In the final application before the zoning board, Verizon Wireless sought municipal approval to construct the monopole (a single tube tower) on a 1.9-acre parcel in a residential zone at 391 Monmouth Road (Route 537) near Francis Mills Road and Blueberry Hill in Freehold Township.
The monopole would have been contained in a 50- by 50-foot compound that would have also contained a 12- by 26-foot equipment shelter, according to previous testimony.
The cell tower is not a permitted use on the land that is zoned for low-density residential development. Verizon Wireless sought a use variance for the facility.
A radio frequency expert representing Verizon Wireless previously testified that the company currently has antennas at five locations in this section of Freehold Township and in neighboring Millstone Township and Jackson.
The proposed tower at 391 Monmouth Road would have filled a gap in coverage on Route 537 and Francis Mills Road in Freehold Township, and on Paint Island Spring and Stillhouse roads and several other streets in Millstone Township, according to previous testimony.
On Dec. 10, professional planner William F. Masters Jr. concluded testimony he began at a previous meeting. He said that after considering positive and negative criteria, he believed the scale was tipped in favor of the positive criteria and asked the board to grant the use variance for the cell tower at 391 Monmouth Road.
Masters acknowledged that the placement of the cell tower would create some visual impact on neighboring properties, but he noted that the provision of modern telecommunications equipment was in the public interest.
Residents who sat through several meetings centering on the application were then permitted to comment on Verizon’s plan.
David Silverman, of Francis Mills Road, noted that the applicant was requesting several variances in a residential zone and said, “these variances are beyond what a homeowner would request for something like a shed in a residential zone. I think they should find a different site that is more appropriate for what they want to do.”
Mike Cavanaugh, of Francis Mills Road, said Verizon did not search for a site for the cell tower in Millstone Township, where coverage is needed.
“Freehold Township’s ordinance prohibits building cell towers on residential sites … Freehold Township does not need it … Homes in Millstone Township need it … Tell them to go to Millstone,” Cavanaugh said.
Donald Walker, of Brookside Road, Millstone Township, spoke in favor of the application and said, “I have been complaining to Verizon and telling them their service is bad. We do need service.”
Kevin Post, of Blueberry Hill, said people who moved to this corner of Freehold Township “believed we would be protected in a residential zone. … Anywhere where we can push (the tower) back off Route 537 would be a benefit.”
Lou Velez, who said he is a potential buyer of a home at 393 Monmouth Road, told the zoning board, “this is our dream house. If this tower goes up it will be right in front of our home. Please do not let this happen.”
Following the comments from residents, Dunn summed up her case by saying, “There has been no expert testimony in opposition to our application. We understand and appreciate the concerns of the residents. We have tried to satisfy the criteria and I ask for a favorable vote.”
Zoning board members then discussed the application.
Board Chairman Jeff Decker said the comments of several residents who would be directly impacted by the cell tower provided valuable information to him and the other board members “as we make an informed decision.”
Several board members said the applicant’s recent disclosure that a 6-acre property at 363 Monmouth Road may now be a viable site for a cell tower would weigh into their decision regarding the request for the use variance at 391 Monmouth Road.
Board member Jay Yoon said there was “very valuable input from residents. … There was nothing done (by Verizon) to mitigate the negative impact (of the tower).”
Board member Scott Elowitz made a motion to deny Verizon’s request for a use variance. He said 391 Monmouth Road was not well suited for the proposed use, that the variances being requested were too intense and that there may be a better site for the cell tower in the search area.
In the final vote ever to be taken by the zoning board, Decker, Yoon, Elowitz, John Jennings, Tom Apostle, Apryl Kurtz and Bert Lundberg voted to deny the Verizon Wireless application.
Cavanaugh, who was one of the residents who initially brought the cell tower application to the attention of the public, said, “As pleased as I am with the zoning board’s decision to deny Verizon’s request to build a cell tower on my street, I am more pleased with my neighbors.
“This racially, religiously, politically and economically diverse group has worked together for the past year with the common goal of stopping Verizon.
“I believe this diversity is where we got the strength to keep plugging away through dozens of days of delivering fliers, many strategy meetings and sign-painting sessions, and the drudgery of five zoning board meetings.
“We jammed each other’s email inboxes with whatever information we could acquire about cell towers and used our individual strengths to use them in front of the board.
“In the end the zoning board unanimously agreed with our case but, what was more important for me, was the reminder of why I live where I live and of how lucky I am to have these folks in my neighborhood to call friends,” Cavanaugh said.
Decker concluded the meeting and the zoning board’s work by saying, “There has been a lot of history on this board, you (board members) do it on your own time and you should feel proud of your service to the town. I thank you for your time and your professionalism.”