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Cell Tower Goes to Bid, Despite Residents' Concerns

Chatham Township Committee should get guarantees cellular companies will go back onto PSE&G towers at the end of the contract, residents say.

The Chatham Township Committee approved a temporary cellular tower in Esternay Field for public bidding by a 3-1 vote Thursday, despite the disapproval voiced by residents.

The tower was proposed by T-Mobile, whose experts told the township that an area of about 1.3 miles in eastern Chatham Township and New Providence would lose service if the tower was not installed.

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.

T-Mobile hopes to put a third near the playground at Esternay Field.

which cellular companies can bid on, that will ensure the tower is taken down within three years.

Stacey Ewald, who sent a Letter to the Editor about the tower, asked how the township could guarantee the tower would indeed be temporary.

"That property is [in the township's] open space inventory," Woodward said. "The tower can never be come permanent."

The contract is for two years, with a possible one-year extension by permission of the committee. Any longer, Woodward said, and the state would get involved. "It would be a virtually impossibly project," he said.

Also, Woodward specified that the cell company must take down the playground at the start of the contract and put a new playground in once the tower comes down.

While T-Mobile is the only company that has expressed an interest, Woodward said, "after all these things were put in, they may not want it anymore."

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Township residents spoke up at the meeting again Thursday against the Esternay site.

"This really doesn't make sense to me," Jim Venezia said. "This is a small amount of coverage they're looking to pick up. They should be able to retrofit [existing] poles."

Mayor Nicole Hagner and Woodward said when T-Mobile went before the Zoning Board, their experts said they needed a tower near the mountain along River Road to provide coverage for their customers in the area.

"The mountain causes some interference," Woodward said.

Committee Member Bailey Brower, Jr. said he viewed the contract as a trade-off. "The loss of the playground is the down side, but on the upside, we'll get something new and maybe better than what we had," Brower said.

The township will also get payments of about $37,000 annually from whichever company wins the bid, which Committee Member Kathy Abbott said "will be a benefit to the entire community."

Brower also said since T-Mobile customers in New Providence would lose coverage without the tower, "it's really about being a good neighbor."

Committee Member Laura Ali Nonnenmacher said she wanted to learn more, including how many T-Mobile customers were in the area. "This is a used playground," she said. "Kids are playing on there, ... [and] three years is a long time in the life of a child."

Hagner said the experts who testified before the Zoning Board were not sure how many customers were in the area.

Township Administrator Tom Ciccarone reminded the committee that approving the tower for bidding did not mean they had to approve the tower. "You can reject all bids," he said, and decide not to bid again if they wish.

After the committee approved the tower for public bid by a vote of 3-1, with Nonnenmacher casting the sole nay vote and Committee Member Robert Gallop absent from the meeting, Venezia and Nick Massa vowed to return to the meetings after bids came in.

"I think doing our due diligence is being disregarded," Massa said.

Venezia was stronger in his objections. "I'm not going to sit back and watch while this tower goes up," he said.

Biff September 28, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Kathy Abbott, how could you?! You of all people trading Green Space for Green Backs . . . SHAME ON YOU KATHY ABBOTT! We expected Bailey and Nicole to put T-Mobile $’s ahead of families, children, the playground and our green space, but not you. OK Mr. Templin, go ahead and say you told me so when I previously praised and defended Kathy Abbott. Laura Nonnenmacher, THANK YOU!! Once again you showed unwavering integrity, courage and bravery, asking the questions that need to be asked and standing up for what is truly right, not for what is most profitable. You weren’t blinded by the T-Mobile money and most importantly . . . you didn’t sell us out. Cudos also to Mrs. Ewald, Mr. Massa and Mr. Venezia for doing your homework, research and for joining the fight for what is right. You three deserve an “A+” and clearly we need more concerned, responsible, and active citizens like you three. You are pressing for the needed answers to open questions that members Abbott, Brower and Hagner are failing to get/consider. For their efforts and diligence (or rather lack thereof) those committee members deserve a grade of “F”. The rest of us in the Township need to take a stand, speak out, and support fine efforts of wonderful folks like messrs Nonnenmacher, Ewald, Massa and Venezia. Kathy Abbott, do you really want to soil and blemish your previous fine work and reputation, do you really want your legacy to be “Green Space for Green Backs”?
Stacey Ewald September 28, 2012 at 02:05 PM
This bid approval is only the first step in the cell tower at Esternay. There will still be opportunities to show your disapproval and hopefully persuade the Planning Board to deny T-Mobile's application, should it get to that point. T-Mobile claims there will be a gap of reliable in-building cellular coverage over 1.3 miles on River Road and 1 mile on Springfield in New Providence. How many T-Mobile customers could there possibly be in this small area using their cell phones as their primary in-building telecommunications means. I'm sure it's not many. So, that raises the next question. Why would T-Mobile be willing to pay $3000 per month plus the cost of constructing a temporary cell tower for such a small customer-base and a potential "gap" in service that they can't even quantify. We have to ask what their real motive is. I hope the Township attorney is right and there is no way T-Mobile will be allowed to leave the tower up beyond 3 years. To me, it sounds like it would be a court battle of State green space laws vs Federal Communications law. Which one do you think will win out? I'd love to hear from attornies on how strong the Township case would be to try to get a cell tower taken down once it's sitting on green space for three years. And will the Township commit the funds to fight to take the tower down?
Stacey Ewald September 28, 2012 at 03:39 PM
The Township attorney made a comment that was interesting. With respect to the bid, he said something to the effect that it's possible no one will bid due to the additional requirements and penalties cited in the bid. If the bid document is tough - higher lease fees each year, high penalties if the tower doesn't come down in two years, reimbursement of legal fees for any litigation due to tower, a minimum lease fee requirement, new playground of same caliber or higher, maximum height for the tower, etc., then perhaps no one will find this deal attractive enough to bid.
Stacey Ewald September 28, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Hi Biff. Thanks so much for your kind words and support. I also very much appreciate everything that Nonnenmacher, Massa and Venezia have done. We live in a great community with wonderful residents who give generously of their time and have an immense amount of talent. I have learned so much from the people who've gotten involved in this debate. I truly hope the three consenting members of the Committee are right and this will all be done with in a year or two and we'll have a beautiful new playground and $72,000 in additional municipal revenue. Unfortunately, when I read between the lines, it doesn't sound as rosy as T-Mobile would like us to believe and I'm not convinced our legal position is as bullet proof as the lawyer has indicated.
TCG September 28, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Let's see...$37K x 3 years comes to $111K which Abbott says will "benefit the entire community?" Can she tell us HOW we will all benefit from that money? Has the committee already decided what to do with the money? If so, what is the plan? If not, might I suggest we construct a "temporary" or even permanent playground somewhere else in town. Or how about cutting every taxpayer a check in the form of tax relief? The committee has decided to make a few T-mobile customers in another town a higher priority than our own kids and they tell us "we will all benefit?" Good luck selling that BS to the kids.
Biff September 28, 2012 at 04:31 PM
A large portion of that money will need to go to legal costs associated with fighting for the Farm Ordinance, that maybe benefits a handfull of people in the Township like Kathy Abbott's landscaper. It would really be good to understand how many people will actually benefit from the Farm Ordinance, as fighting for it will end up costing Township tax payers tens of thousands of $'s. Along with questions that need to be raised about the cell tower, hard, detailed questions need to be asked about the legal $'s being wasted to fight for a Farm Ordinance benefiting a very small few favored freinds.
Laura Silvius (Editor) September 28, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Hi everyone, Just a reminder to please keep your comments civil and refrain from name-calling or other insults. Sincerely, Laura Silvius Chatham Patch Local Editor
BFF September 29, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Good job Massa family. Now instead of having a hidden tower by what is already an eyesore (the PSE&G electric tower) ...you've galvanized the neighborhood into creating a total eye sore on a soccer field! And ripping up our kid's playground. You should be ashamed of yourselves. You thought your property would be worth 20% less before... well now it really is!! You would not have been able to see the tower before.
Stacey Ewald September 30, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Don't blame the Massa's for standing up to T-Mobile. They did a lot of research and really armed everyone with the information to keep this tower away all together- which is truly the right answer. It doesn't belong on a residential property or in a playground or in anyone's backyard. T-mobile hasn't proven that it's necessary so it doesn't belong anywhere in Chatham! That's what you should be fighting for.
Swing ONA Monople October 02, 2012 at 12:04 AM
Pu-lease...Brower saying that "this is all about being a good neighbor" to NP is such a disingenuous crock of pickles! No friends, once again this about big fish in a small pond politics running rampant over good and common sense for the REAL users of the playground. (No offense Laura...) but would Mr. Brower be such a "good neighbor" if they wanted to replace the playground at his NOE Pond club because the golfers across the street couldn't get a cell signal whilst on the 16th green?! As someone who HAS actually had their kids use the playground while siblings play on Esternay I can tell you that the pittance Chatham will collect is downright silly! Chatham gets the stuff they deserve by continuing the farce of bully politics.
BFF October 13, 2012 at 01:55 PM
I disagree with you Stacey. The Massa's probably didn't intend for the cell tower to end up on a playground. But they did muck around in a situation they knew nothing about for fear of their own personal property loosing value. Now they will really see the tower. Which is ironic...as before they wouldn't. And now not only will their property value be diminished over the next 2 years (if it is really 2 yrs) but they will also SEE the tower!!! You need to know what you're doing before getting 80 people to sign a petition. They should have left well enough alone.
Stacey Ewald October 15, 2012 at 03:03 AM
BFF, I was at the meeting when T-Mobile tried to get the Township Committee to approve the initial private residential property site on River Road. The petition was clearly not a determining factor for the Committee. They had long been pushing for T-Mobile to find space on Township Property. However, I do believe the petition drove home the point that if so many were to be troubled by the tower, then compensation for the trouble should have a broader benefit to the community. I'm guessing that's why the Township Committee pushed for a public site - so that the revenue would benefit the broader public who would be put out by this tower. The private site only compensates the homeowner for everyone's else's trouble. The Massa's were forthright with me in noting that the tower could move up the hill to Esternay but I still sent my email to the Township Committee in protest of the residential site and the Esternay site. You're correct in saying that "you need to know what you're doing before..." When it comes to battling the wireless communications companies and the Federal Communications Act of 1996, the deck is definitely stacked against us. But, in this "temporary" tower scenario, T-Mobile just didn't make the case.to show there's a need so it's not clear to me why we're bending over backwards to accomodate them at all.
BFF October 27, 2012 at 01:02 AM
I'm also not sure why Chatham is bending over to accommodate? But by your argument... the Massa petition was signed to somehow bring a "broader benefit to the community." How is destroying a playground and exposing my kids, who play soccer on upper Esternay, to an ugly tower (and possible radiation) a benefit to the community? Sorry you've lost be there. Also who really is the beneficiary when the township collects the money? I'd almost rather a private resident collect the money and keep our playground! Heck let the private resident get radiated (who I hear has 6 acres and hence the tower would be buried in the woods next to the existed PSE&G tower). It's just not worth the money the township will collect.

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