HILLSBOROUGH: Cell tower hearings continue with testimony from Verizon Wireless experts

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Applicant Verizon Wireless supplied this suggestion what the cell tower behind the Woods Road firehouse might look like in the surrounding neighborhood

By Andrew Martins, Managing Editor
A pair of experts representing Verizon Wireless’ effort to construct a proposed cell tower at the Woods Road firehouse were again cross-examined during a recent zoning board meeting.
Mark Tinder, a real estate appraiser, and Joseph Oates, a site acquisition specialist, returned before the board on Wednesday, Dec. 7 to face additional scrutiny from attorney Robert F. Simon, who is representing a group of concerned homeowners near the proposed site, and members of the board.
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.
In the past, Mr. Tinder testified that he did not believe that the existence of cell towers near a residential zone has no negative impact on property value. At that time, he cited instances in Howell and Franklin Townships that he alleged proved his point.
The hearings started with questions from Mr. Simon regarding a report from Mr. Tinder that outlined the sale of multiple properties near an existing tower in Hillsborough over a period of time.
In direct contrast to Mr. Tinder’s previous statement, Mr. Simon pointed to different instances in the appraiser’s report where similar properties were sold around the same time period that had different values, seemingly based on their proximity to an existing cell tower.
“If you have a property that’s 635 feet away that sold for $460,000 and you have a similar type of property with a similar number of bedrooms and similar number of bathrooms in the same neighborhood that doesn’t have a view of the tower that sold for $100,000 more, why isn’t that relevant to your analysis,” Mr. Simon said.
Additional information into the sale of properties in Hillsborough that exist near towers was also discussed during the meeting, including the sales figures of properties on Rivendell Road, Rohill Road, Beechwood Circle and Oak Terrace.
For the purpose of that report, Mr. Tinder said he focused on a property on Oak Terrace that did have a direct view of the tower and compared it to similar properties that either don’t have views or distant views of the properties.
“In my opinion, these five sales that I utilized, all in the Rohill neighborhood, are a good case study to compare to 48 Oak Terrace,” Mr. Tinder said.
Mr. Simon also later questioned the validity of Mr. Tinder’s findings, since some of the sales referenced could have either come from divorce proceedings or estate sales, resulting in skewed sales numbers.
“These properties were listed on multiple listings, the owners sold for what I presume was what they could get on the market, they did sell and had been sold for what it had been listed for,” Mr. Tinder said.
Later on in the hearing, Mr. Oates returned to testify as to why he chose to acquire the Woods Road location for the cell tower’s construction in the first place back in April 2014.
Just as in his previous testimony, Mr. Oates said that he decided to not reach out to the school district about constructing the proposed cell tower on Woods Road Elementary School property, since he felt that it was prohibited by the township.
Zoning Board member Steve Monte called into question why Mr. Oates decided the fire house property was a proper location, based on existing zoning regulations.
“You approached the firehouse, which has equal zoning ‘no-nos,'” Mr. Monte said, referencing the proposed site’s proximity to a park.
Mr. Oates said he did not reach out to the Hillsborough Township Board of Education about potentially constructing the cell tower on their property since the site was “specifically prohibited” in the municipal code book.
“I did not approach the school because of how I interpreted, and how I was trained, what the zoning ordinance was with a specific prohibition,” he said.
When it came to the park and its proximity to the tower, Verizon attorney Warren Stilwell contested that the adjacent baseball field is owned by the Woods Road firehouse and could be made private at any time, thus potentially removing its use as a public recreational area.
Mr. Monte specifically referenced the township’s conditional use provisions, where it expressly outlines the construction of cell towers. In that section, titled 188-46B, prohibits cell towers on “any school property, parks and playgrounds…recreation facilities.”
When pushed by Mr Monte to admit that the baseball field located near the firehouse was a “recreation facility,” Mr. Oates would only designate the location as a “ball field.”
“To me, a recreation facility is township-run,” Mr. Oates said.
A hearing on the cell tower was scheduled to take place on Wednesday night, after this week’s print deadline for the Hillsborough Beacon.