A contract for a temporary cell tower was approved by the Chatham Township Committee by a vote of 4-1 at their Thursday meeting.
"The contract is for two years," Attorney Carl Woodward said, with two possible six-month extensions. Because the field is part of the township's Open Space inventory, the state Department of Environmental Protection will not allow a cell tower to remain in the field for more than three years.
The tower will be located in Esternay Field where a children's playground is currently located. As part of the contract, T-Mobile will replace the playground with new equipment when the tower is taken down.
T-Mobile initially proposed and was the sole bidder for the tower. Engineers from T-Mobile told the committee at a previous meeting the tower would cover about 1.3 miles in eastern Chatham Township and New Providence.
T-Mobile usually puts its cell towers on top of PSE&G towers. During PSE&G's North Central Reliability Project, they have to remove their towers and find alternative locations.
Two such locations currently exist in Chatham Township, one at Colony Pool and one at the Chatham Township Municipal Building, but T-Mobile said there is still an area without coverage. This tower will provide service for that area, including along River Road and Springfield Avenue.
The Chatham Township Committee approved a public bid for the tower at their Sept. 27 meeting by a vote of 3-1.
Despite numerous objections from residents at past meetings, only one resident, Jim Venezia was the only person to object during the public session of Thursday's meeting.
"It sends a terrible message to kids, taking recreation lands and destroying them for a cell tower," Venezia said.
Venezia also said he was concerned about any health impacts for children in putting the tower in a place where children will play after the tower is taken down.
"So many things don't show health issues until years later," he said.
Laura Ali Nonnenmacher cast the sole nay vote, saying the playground at Esternay was more valuable than the income from the tower.
"I don't think it's worth the money," she said. "I think there could be a win-win [situation] with this, but I don't think this is it."
Other members of the committee, however, said it was the only suitable location in town.
"We asked them to look at other locations," Mayor Nicole Hagner said. "They looked at the fire department, and at another site we have, and it doesn't give the coverage area that this location does."
T-Mobile originally looked at putting the tower inside a private residence, but neighbors strongly objected and the committee directed the cell phone company to look for a municipal site to put the tower at instead.
"I feel bad [about losing the playground]," Committee Member Kathy Abbott said, "but if you look around, it's not a new cell tower. It's the old cell tower beign moved. But the old one was on top of the high tension towers."
T-Mobile will still have to appear before the Planning Board before they can begin constructing the tower.
Hagner said this will be the Planning Board's fourth hearing for a cell tower in town. "They have a pretty good idea of what the issues are," Hagner said.
Woodward told the committee the Planning Board could get more details from T-Mobile in their hearing, but T-Mobile would not be under any obligation to appear before them unless the contract was approved.
Woodward also said the township does not have to sign the contract immediately, and he recommended the township have T-Mobile sign the contract first.