By Mark Rosman
FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – A decision on a company’s plan to build a cellular communications tower on Route 537 is expected to be delivered at the July 7 meeting of the Freehold Township Planning Board.
Testimony from the applicant’s representatives and comments from members of the public concluded at the board’s June 16 meeting on an application submitted by New York SMSA Limited Partnership (Verizon Wireless), which is seeking 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 6.3-acre 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.
Verizon Wireless’ representatives indicated the company would lease a portion of 363 Monmouth Road in order to construct the cell tower.
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 previous testimony.
Professional planner William F. Masters Jr. concluded his testimony on June 16 by stating that he did not consider the proposed tower to be a substantial detriment to the public or an impairment to Freehold Township’s master plan given the remoteness of the property, the distance from the monopole to the closest home and the height of vegetation on the property.
Masters said the most significant aspect of the proposal at 363 Monmouth Road is that Verizon Wireless is able to meet the setback requirements as they relate to property lines and neighboring homes. He said that was not the case with a previous application the company filed to construct a cell tower at 391 Monmouth Road. That application was denied by a municipal board in 2015.
Residents Teng Teng Kleiner, Mike Cavanaugh and David Silverman made comments and asked questions about the application during the public hearing.
In response to questions from Kleiner, professional engineer Frank Pazden, representing Verizon Wireless, said fewer than 20 trees would have to be removed from the site in order for the construction of the monopole and equipment compound to be constructed.
Cavanaugh said he believes Verizon Wireless has excellent coverage in this part of Freehold Township and said he believes the firm wants to construct the tower in order to lease space to a firm that would also place its antennas on the monopole as a co-locator.
Attorney Lynne Dunn, representing Verizon Wireless, said she did not know how much the firm would charge a second company to co-locate its antennas on the tower.
Cavanaugh said the majority of homes that would benefit from the new cell tower are in Millstone Township and not in Freehold Township, where the monopole would stand.
“I believe (Verizon Wireless) is going to make a lot of money co-locating. I think we have shown that (neighbors) object,” he said.
Silverman said motorists on Route 537 might only lose a cell signal for a few seconds if Verizon Wireless is not permitted to build the monopole in this area.
“I don’t see how it will benefit the area in any significant way. I only can see that it benefits Verizon,” he said.
Dunn summed up her case for the use variance by noting that in its 2015 denial of the cell tower at 391 Monmouth Road, the Zoning Board of Adjustment (which has since been merged into the Planning Board) indicated that the property at 363 Monmouth Road was better suited for the monopole.
The alternate site at 363 Monmouth Road had been introduced as a possible location for a cell tower during the hearings when professionals representing Verizon Wireless were testifying about placing a monopole on the 2-acre parcel at 391 Monmouth Road.
Verizon Wireless filed legal action in the wake of the zoning board’s denial of that application.
Rich Gatto, who chairs the Planning Board, has recused himself from hearing the current application. John Bazzurro is chairing the board in Gatto’s absence.
Bazzurro said that given the volume of testimony provided and the number of exhibits marked into evidence over several meetings, he wanted to give board members a chance to review the material and consider their position on the application.
Board members agreed to present their views and vote at the July 7 meeting. The application is being heard by Patrick Coburn, Ronald Kirk, Robert Shortmeyer, Leon Bruno Jr., Kevin Asadi, Apryl Kurtz and Bazzurro.