By Mark Rosman
FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – Testimony on an application submitted by Verizon Wireless seeking approval to build a cellular communications tower on Route 537 is expected to continue at the April 21 meeting of the Freehold Township Planning Board.
On Feb. 18, representatives of New York SMSA Limited Partnership (Verizon Wireless) began making their case for the granting of a use variance that would permit the company to install a 120-foot-tall monopole cell tower at 363 Monmouth Road (Route 537), Freehold Township. The parcel is an undeveloped wooded lot with a clearing in the middle of the tract. The property is in the vicinity of open space parcels, YMCA Camp Topanemus and residences.
A wireless communications facility is not permitted in the R-80 residential zone where Verizon Wireless wants to place the cell tower in order to fill a gap in coverage in this area of Freehold Township and neighboring Millstone Township. The application proposes the construction of a fenced-in compound that would contain the cell tower and an equipment shelter, according to a report that was read into the record.
Board Chairman Rich Gatto and board members Rob Kash, Township Committeeman Anthony Ammiano and Township Committeeman Tom Cook recused themselves from hearing the application.
Board members John Bazzurro, Leon Bruno Jr. and Robert Shortmeyer, and alternate members Apryl Kurtz and Kevin Asadi, are hearing the application. Board member Patrick Coburn was absent on Feb. 18, but will be eligible to hear the application after listening to a tape of the meeting, according to the board.
In 2015, Verizon Wireless submitted a plan to construct a cell tower on a 2-acre parcel at 391 Monmouth Road. The Zoning Board of Adjustment denied that application and Verizon Wireless has filed legal action against the municipality in regard to that denial.
At the end of 2015, the Township Committee merged the duties of the zoning board with the Planning Board and that is why Verizon Wireless is now before a different municipal body with its application for a cell tower at 363 Monmouth Road.
A report read into the record by Bazzurro stated that the Freehold Township Board of Health has no objections to the project and that the equipment meets guidelines established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). A report from the Freehold Township Environmental Commission indicates that panel has no concerns with the project.
David Stern, a radio frequency engineer, testified on behalf of Verizon Wireless. Under questioning from attorney Lynne Dunn, representing the applicant, Stern said the results of tests he conducted indicate radio frequency emissions from the site demonstrate compliance with FCC guidelines. He said the emissions would be more than 200 times below FCC standards.
Stern said the criteria used to determine compliance with FCC standards include the power of the antennas that are placed on the tower, the shape of the antennas, the height at which the antennas are placed and the distance of the antennas to other structures.
“There is no aspect of the site that does not comply with FCC standards,” Stern said.
Bruce Eisenstein, who is the township’s telecommunications consultant, was present at the meeting and said that in regard to compliance with FCC standards, Stern had completed his calculations correctly.
Stern said Verizon Wireless wants to ensure 4G data coverage and service in all venues (i.e., cars, homes) to support all devices. He said 44 percent of all houses in the United States now only have wireless phones and that more than 70 percent of all 911 calls come from wireless phones.
He said that in this area of Freehold Township, Verizon Wireless has “a substantial gap in coverage” when it comes to providing service to all devices in all venues. He defined that by saying certain portions of Route 537 have “less than reliable” service.
Within this area there are cell towers on Backbone Hill Road in Millstone Township, at two locations on Siloam Road in Freehold Township, and at two locations in neighboring Jackson Township, Stern testified.
Stern concluded by saying that the property at 363 Monmouth Road has a cleared area that would be a suitable location for the cell tower and that the proposed tower would serve the gap in the coverage area.
Eisenstein informed the board and members of the public that the federal Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 would permit a second communications company to place antennas on Verizon Wireless’ tower and to extend the height of the tower by 20 feet without being required to obtain municipal approval for the higher tower.
He asked Stern to conduct tests to determine if a 100-foot-tall tower or a 110-foot-tall tower would serve Verizon’s purposes, so that if a second company placed antennas on the tower the maximum height would be 130 feet. Stern said he would conduct those tests.