By Mark Rosman
MANALAPAN – The need to fill a gap in its coverage area led representatives of Verizon Wireless on a 10-year journey that has resulted in a proposal to construct a cellular communications tower on a residential property at 83 Millhurst Road in Manalapan.
In the first of what is expected to be several hearings on the application, a radio frequency engineer testified for nearly three hours during a special meeting of the Manalapan Zoning Board of Adjustment on April 24.
New York SMSA Limited Partnership (Verizon Wireless) has filed an application with the board seeking preliminary and final major site plan approvals in order to construct a 120-foot-tall monopole with 12 antennas mounted on a platform.
The monopole would be in a 50-foot by 50-foot equipment compound. A 12-foot by 25-foot canopy covered elevated steel platform in the equipment compound will contain associated equipment cabinets and a 10-kilowatt natural gas generator. The equipment compound is to be enclosed by an 8-foot-tall chain link fence, according to a legal notice describing the proposal.
Verizon Wireless requires a use variance because the proposed communications use is not permitted in Manalapan’s Rural Agricultural zoning district. The applicant also requires a use variance regarding the proposed height since 35 feet is permitted and 120 feet is proposed to the top of the monopole and 126 feet is proposed to the top of the lightning rod.
Attorney Lynne Dunn is representing Verizon Wireless. Two other attorneys came forward to say they are representing nearby property owners. Attorney Robert Munoz is representing Jack Eisner and attorney Bryan Plocker is representing Woodward Estates LLC.
Under questioning from Dunn, radio frequency engineer David Stern described how Verizon Wireless has sought property in this area of Manalapan for 10 years. He said more than 20 potential sites were investigated. Some potential sites were deemed to be too close to the protected Monmouth Battlefield.
Stern said sites the company investigated included the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District property at 116 Millhurst Road; the Manalapan Department of Public Works yard on Route 522; the cell tower at the Manalapan municipal building on Route 522; various properties on Millhurst Road; the Gentile property at the corner of Tennent Road and Route 522; the Battleground Country Club’s golf course on Millhurst Road; and several properties on Main Street between Route 522 and Millhurst Road.
He said that for various reasons, none of those properties resulted in an application for a cell tower. In some cases the property owner was not willing to permit a tower on the property and in other cases a site would not provide coverage to the targeted area.
Stern said when representatives of Verizon Wireless identified 83 Millhurst Road as a potential site for a cell tower, they found a willing owner, an open area that would not require the removal of a significant number of trees and a location that was set back from the road.
“We are trying to provide a reliable signal and reliable service to all devices in all places,” Stern said.
He said the goal in this application is to better serve an area along Main Street and Woodward Road; Millhurst Road north and south of Main Street; and new residential developments south of Main Street and Woodward Road.
Stern provided technical details about cell towers and said radio frequency emissions from the proposed cell tower would be 200 times below the acceptable level set by the Federal Communications Commission.
Dennis Galvin, the zoning board’s attorney, informed members of the public that federal law precludes the board from considering health issues that may be related to cell towers.
Resident Moshe Bero said health issues are precisely what he is concerned about, but Galvin reiterated that the law does not permit the board to consider that matter.
Dunn said Stern will offer additional testimony at a future meeting and with that information the board members made and approved a motion to hire a radio frequency expert who will represent the interests of the board and the township.
Board member Terry Rosenthal asked Stern if there are any plans to replace cell towers.
Stern said there are no plans to do so in the near future. However, he noted that the height of cell towers, which are known as macrocells, has decreased from the 200- to 250-foot-tall towers that were constructed in the 1980s to today’s cell towers in the range of 90 to 140 feet tall.
“Towers are still the main backbone of our infrastructure,” Stern said.
The next hearing on the Verizon Wireless application has been scheduled for the May 18 meeting of the zoning board.