After more than a year of meetings an application to build a 120 foot monopole cell tower Christ Church Property on Oak Glen Rd. took another step closer to completion.
At Monday's meeting of the Howell Board of Adjustment the cell phone company brought back a prior witness and objectors to the plan were given a chance to voice their opinion before closing arguments are slated to be delivered later this summer.
Board Chairman Stephen Meier who had recused himself from prior meetings on the application filled in for Vice Chairman Valeri Morone who had handled the hearings in recent months. Morone had a medical issue which prevented her from attending Monday's meeting.
During the three hours of testimony and cross examination by both sides questions were raised about the proposed pole including the visual impact it would have on nearby residents.
Richard Stanzione, the attorney representing T-Mobile started the hearing by resting the company's case in the matter. Edward Liston, representing objectors to the plan then called planner Gordon Gemma to testify in the case.
Questions were raised by Liston about the proposed property for the pole. Citing previous court cases Gemma said the goal for the proposed cell tower was to find the "most suitable site for the cell tower, or were there other sites in town equally as suitable."
He added, "You've got to ask, is it the best site in Howell for a cell tower and what standards Howell looked at to determine what the best site is." That he said was "the planning issue."
Liston asked Gemma whether testimony by T-Mobile about the cellular telephone technology was enough to satisfy the township's planning criteria. Gemma answered simply, "no." He added. "T-Mobile's criteria may be different than Howell's criteria."
Since cell towers are not a permitted use in the ARE-6 zone Gemma said there were several factors the board needed to consider when looking at the use variance being applied for balancing the need for the tower and the planning aspects. "You've got to ask do I need to achieve those goals and objectives as you set forth. And if you don't, then I don't think it rises to the extent of the use variance that they met their burden of proof."
When looking at criteria Board member Thomas Posch asked Gemma how many need to be satisfied in order for an application to be approved. "It doesn't provide an objective standard and say you must meet one or all," he said. "I proper as a planner these are all the criteria you should take in balance when you are weighing whether in fact this applicant should be approved."
Following the testimony of Gemma Liston called Christine Lundberg, a local resident. While Lundberg is a real estate agent she was being called as a resident who said she lives close to the church property.
Lundberg said she had several reasons to object to the application having lived in the area for 16 years. She said when she was looking she enjoyed the fact that it was near the Manasquan Reservoir and horse farms and was a generally residential neighborhood. She said she liked the fact that it was "not with any power lines in sight, not with any obstructed views or any other things that I thought would harm my children health wise as well as value wise for resale."
Stanzione objected to Lundberg talking about property values as he was testifying as a resident and not an expert. Board Attorney Ronald Troppoli said he believed she could express her feelings without serving as an expert. "I think it's very close to the line," he said of one question by Liston. "My concern is if she says no or if she says yes what is it based on. Mr. Stanzione really can't cross examine an issue, something that happened five years ago."
Lundberg said she appreciated the boards time in all the hearings on the application and encouraged them to listen to the objections of the residents who live nearby. "What I'm really hoping to gather from all of this coming to an end today, tonight, is that you make your decision based upon knowing that Monmouth Ridings as a development across the street from Christ Church where T-Mobile is looking to put their site was put in later on after Monmouth Ridings was there," she said.
She added, "I feel that aesthetically for my family, for where I chose to live it wasn't what I planned and I feel that the master plan for Howell I hope that it overcomes and gets voted down because I feel it's not for this location or area."
As she was wrapping up her testimony board member Ed Guz asked how many people in the development were objecting to the plan. Lundberg said of 144 property owners she believed close to 130 were part of the group of objectors.
She was followed by Alexander Tobia who was called because he took a picture of a balloon test used to determine whether the cell tower would be visible from various parts of the surrounding area. On direct and cross examination Tobia was asked about when he took the picture and how long the balloon was in the air among other topics.
Tobia said he also objected to the application. "If the tower was placed where they say it's going to be placed it's going to be in the middle of the sky and that's what I'm going to be seeing everyday walking out my door walking out any of my back doors and I know I'm not the only home that has that view."
Bari Siegel, another local resident also voiced her objection to the application. "I think it goes without saying that we're not really comfortable having the cell tower in our line of sight in the area, it's just not something that we want," she said.
The final resident to provide testimony was Steve Konish who also objected to the proposed application. "My concern is that they're essentially meeting the needs of the 195 passers by and putting this or installing the cell tower inland of 195 essentially in our backyard when really it belongs in my opinion down along the highway if anywhere," he said.
Following cross examination Chairman Meier said closing arguments will be delivered at the Aug. 27 meeting. That meeting is scheduled to start at 7:30.