Residents press Freehold Township to keep fighting proposed cell tower

0
1285

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – A petition for certification from the Freehold Township Planning Board which asks the state Supreme Court to review litigation regarding a proposed cellular communications tower is pending after the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division ruled T-Mobile could construct the tower.

Municipal officials stated during a Nov. 26 Township Committee meeting that the Planning Board has filed a petition for certification with the Supreme Court.

Property at 169 Robertsville Road in a semi-rural area of Freehold Township was targeted for a cell tower by T-Mobile in 2007. For years, residents of the neighborhood have voiced their opposition to any plan that calls for the construction of a cell tower at the property.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment, which has since been combined with the Planning Board, denied the company’s application in 2009.

In 2011, T-Mobile received permission from the Superior Court to build the cell tower. No construction has ever taken place.

In late 2017, municipal officials issued a stop work order after equipment and materials that are used to drill foundations were reported to have been mobilized at 169 Robertsville Road.

Freehold Township officials said the stop work order was issued because the construction permit T-Mobile possessed had expired and the company no longer had a valid construction permit.

An application from T-Mobile to construct the cell tower was denied by the zoning officer in 2018. Among other reasons, the denial was based on coverage differences between 2007 and 2017 and nearly a decade having elapsed since T-Mobile provided evidence of a coverage area gap.

Representatives of T-Mobile subsequently appeared before the Planning Board to appeal the zoning officer’s denial. The company’s representatives argued that the zoning officer did not have the authority to deny the application because of the prior approval that had been granted in Superior Court.

After board members voted to uphold the zoning officer’s denial, T-Mobile filed a motion in Superior Court to enforce the company’s rights.

Earlier this year, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of T-Mobile. The judge found that the 2011 order granted the company approval to construct a cell tower and the board, through the zoning officer, willfully failed to comply with that order.

Residents have continued to object to the company’s plan to build a cell tower in their neighborhood. During the Nov. 26 meeting, resident Maria Saputo spoke about the negative impacts she asserted the cell tower would have on the area.

Saputo urged township officials to take additional action to prevent the cell tower from being constructed.

She said if a cell tower is constructed at 169 Robertsville Road, “it will result in irreparable devaluation of our homes and the value of this township. Residents pay a premium in taxes for the scenic roadway, for Whittier Oaks Park, for Opatut Park, and for other other parks and open space ordinances, referred to in township ordinances as a ‘bucolic landscape.’

“How do you place in the middle of this sanctuary a 128-foot-tall chunk of metal that will obstruct our views for many miles?” she continued. “The township has a duty to maintain the intent and purpose of the master plan and zoning ordinances, and to protect our investments in this community. You must right this wrong at all costs.”

After she discusssed the petition before the Supreme Court, Saputo asked officials to bring a motion to amend or vacate the Superior Court’s 2011 order.

“It is no longer equitable that the 2011 order should have prospective application and there are many reasons justifying relief from the operation of the order,” she said.

Township Attorney Robert Munoz acknowledged there is a petition for certification before the Supreme Court. He suggested that residents address the matter with the Planning Board at its meeting on Dec. 5.

“We will help the Planning Board focus this case on the Municipal Land Use Law,” he said, adding that he would provide additional information at the appropriate time.