By Mark Rosman
FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – A motion to approve a use variance failed to garner five yes votes from Planning Board members, thereby denying Verizon Wireless the immediate ability to construct a cellular communications tower at 363 Monmouth Road (Route 537), Freehold Township.
At a Sept. 1 meeting, board members Robert Shortmeyer, Kevin Asadi, Leon Bruno Jr. and Patrick Coburn voted yes on the motion to grant Verizon Wireless a use variance. Board members Apryl Kurtz, John Bazzurro and Ronald Kirk voted no.
Although the vote was 4-3 in favor of granting the use variance, five affirmative votes were needed to grant the exception from municipal law which prohibits cell towers at the location where the company sought to place one.
New York SMSA Limited Partnership (Verizon Wireless) was 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 where the monopole would be placed. 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 wanted 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 also proposed the construction of a fenced-in compound that would have contained the cell tower and an equipment shelter.
During a meeting in July, the board members stated their reasons for voting yes or no on the use variance application. At that time, Shortmeyer, Asadi, Bruno and Coburn indicated they would vote to grant the use variance. Kurtz, Bazzurro and Kirk indicated they would not grant the variance.
A motion was made and approved to direct the board’s attorney, Frank Accisano, to prepare a resolution granting a use variance. The vote on that resolution came on Sept. 1, but because none of the three board members who said they would vote no changed their vote to yes, the variance was not granted.
For the record, Accisano summarized the reasons why the Verizon Wireless application did not pass and the board members who voted not to grant the variance agreed with his summation.
Accisano said although the applicant demonstrated a need for service in the targeted area of Freehold Township and Millstone Township, he said this was not a case where there is an absence of service. Rather, it is an area along the Freehold Township and Millstone Township border where cellular service can be interrupted.
Accisano said the applicant’s failure to seek a site for the monopole in Millstone Township was another factor in the denial, as was the possibility that other companies, known as co-locators, could place equipment on the monopole without having to seek municipal approval from Freehold Township to do so.
According to testimony presented during the case, co-locators would not have to seek municipal approval for their equipment because federal regulations override municipal law in certain areas of telecommunications law.
The equipment added by co-locators could increase the tower from an approved height of 128 feet (120 feet plus an 8-foot lightning rod) to 148 feet (140 feet plus an 8-foot lightning rod), and at a height of 148 feet, Accisano said, the monopole could have a negative impact on the appearance of the rural area and on property values.
Finally, he said, the board found that the property at 363 Monmouth Road is not particularly suited for development.
Verizon Wireless has legal action pending against Freehold Township for a 2015 denial of a cellular communications tower at 391 Monmouth Road (Route 537).