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."
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.