By Andrew Martins, Managing Editor
Hearings on a proposed cell tower at the Woods Road firehouse will continue into at least November, as members of the Hillsborough Township Board of Adjustment look to move forward with the proceedings next Wednesday.
During the most recent hearing on Wednesday, Verizon radio frequency engineer David Stern testified about a report he submitted to the board in response to questions from the July 20 meeting.
Verizon wants to build the proposed tower on the property of the Woods Road firehouse to improve service, especially with 4G phones that people increasingly use to reach high-demand internet service, to the 2,200-home area.
The telecommunications company would then pay the fire company an undetermined amount per year for the right to operate behind the firehouse, beyond the outfield of a baseball field.
The proposal needs zoning variances, primarily to place a cell tower and house equipment in a residential zone, close to homes. The ordinance says a tower must be 1,000 feet from a residence.
Verizon is also asking the Board of Adjustment for a variance to come within 2,000 feet of the Woods Road Elementary School (the proposed tower is 940 feet away), and to exceed the allowable maximum 35-foot height for a structure in the zone. The proposed tower is planned to stand 126 feet tall, including the lightning rod.
The proposal not only calls for the construction of a 120-foot cell tower, but also the corresponding facility will be powered in an emergency by a natural gas generator.
Though the application before the board is strictly for a “monopole” cell tower, Mr. Stern testified to the idea of potentially running a distributed antenna system (DAS) near the underserved neighborhood.
According to previous testimony, that type of system would require the installation of numerous poles along the side of local roads with antennae and equipment affixed to each.
Originally, Mr. Stern testified that such a system would take roughly 46 new utility poles with equipment 25 to 30 feet high to cover the proposed area.
On Wednesday, however, he said that number could actually be in the vicinity of 75 to 100 new utility poles, depending on their design.
“At each pole, there would be an equipment cabinet mounted on the side of the pole, roughly 5 to 6 feet tall, 18 inches in width and then 10 to 12 inches in depth,” he said. “On top of the pole would be an antenna that’s approximately 2 feet tall and 15 inches in diameter.”
When asked how those poles would look in the proposed neighborhood, given the fact that there are no above ground utilities to speak of, Mr. Stern said the company could use “street furniture” to make the poles look more aesthetically pleasing.
“We could design street furniture to look like many different things,” he said. “Instead of doing a utility pole there, we could do a light with the antenna coming up at the top.”
Though that solution has been used in nearby communities and could potentially remove the need for the proposed tower, Mr. Stern said using that method would come with some downsides.
Mr. Stern testified that a DAS system would not be nearly as effective as the proposed monopole. According to him, each node in a DAS system only covers up to 300 feet, while the proposed cell tower would provide coverage to a 1.5-mile radius.
“What limits the coverage of the DAS is the power amplifiers that they put in the (attached equipment),” he said. “Every time you add another carrier to that same DAS node and you split it, you cut the power in half, so automatically, the coverage that you got from that site shrinks up and each time you do that, it shrinks some more.”
The only way to combat such a reduction would be to construct additional DAS nodes.
Over the course of the nearly three-hour long hearing, zoning officials asked whether other sites, or alternative coverage solutions, were considered or could still be used.
Mr. Stern was also questioned as to the number of alleged complaints that Verizon Wireless received from customers in the area regarding a supposed lack of coverage. Officials said the expert’s report featured data from Verizon regarding dozens of dropped call and signal level complaints from February 2016.
When Mr. Stern could not offer any explanation into how that information was gathered by the telecommunications company, board member Steve Monte took issue with the data’s submission before the board.
“You can’t testify about something that you have no knowledge of. You cannot prepare this and present this as evidence,” Mr. Monte said, shortly before ripping up the expert’s report and tossing it in a nearby trash bin.
When pushed further by attorney Robert F. Simon, who is representing a group of concerned homeowners near the proposed site, Mr. Stern could not provide information into why the complaints were made.
The next hearing on the proposed cell tower will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28.
By Andrew Martins, Managing Editor