SPRINGFIELD–After four months of meetings, the end of the hearings over the proposed cell phone tower at the Springfield and Summit border is in sight. On Wednesday, T-Mobile’s representatives rested their case for the need to build the 175-foot tower on property owned by Knights of Columbus.
As in previous meetings, Summit residents with homes near the proposed tower site packed into the meeting hall, asking pointed questions of the technical experts testifying on T-mobile's behalf. But for the first time in the hearings, residents were called upon to make statements.
The hearings, up until then mostly composed of technical and legal arguments for and against a cell phone tower in that location, broke out into an impassioned speech by Summit Councilman Michael J. Vernotico, the representative of the ward affected by the tower.
“[The neighborhood] is not the wealth people think of when they think of Summit,” Vernotico said. “You can’t tell these people that a 170-foot tower won’t impact their property.”
He implored members of Springfield’s Board of Adjustment to think of the township’s connection to Summit, saying that the two municipalities are likely to increasingly share services in the future.
“Look at us not as a town next door, but as a future partner,” Vernotico said shortly before audience members broke into applause.
The impassioned comments followed a presentation by Timothy Kronk, an engineer for T-Mobile. As he had at the previous meeting, Kronk again presented visual testimony, including an aerial photo of the area showing the site is surrounded mostly by woods. Also, computer-generated photographs showing how the tower would appear from neighboring properties. The tower, camouflaged to look like a tree, appeared unobtrusive in the photos. Many in the crowd doubted the photographs were an accurate representation of how the tower would appear.
“If you note, they only took pictures when the trees were green and blossoming,” Summit resident Ann Caporaso said.
After the visual presentation, Kronk enumerated T-Mobile’s argument that the Tower passed the standards of the four-point SECA balancing test, a standard that weighs public interest vs. public detriment, and then imposes reasonable conditions and ameliorating conditions. Kronk said that the FCC license that would be granted to the tower proves it promotes general welfare as it improves local telecommunications. He said the detriments would be mostly visual. He said camouflaging the tower as a tree was a reasonable condition T-Mobile undertook on their own, and that the surrounding vegetation also ameliorates the visual impact.
Kronk said that the increased signal strength would be a boon for public safety, as emergency responders would be able to locate a person involved in an accident by triangulating their phone’s signal.
“Push 911 and they can find you,” Kronk said.
Speaking after the meeting reached its 11 p.m. time limit, Vernotico said T-Mobile is misrepresenting themselves.
“Quite frankly, I think that T-Mobile are being disingenuous here,” Vernotico said. In previous testimony, T-Mobile representatives said they contacted Union County about building the tower on Union County property for the tower, but received no response. Vernotico said he asked Summit Mayor Jordan Glatt to contact County administrators.
“The County Manager said they would be receptive to talking about the idea,” Vernotico said.
The matter will be brought up at the next Board of Adjustments meeting on June 22. Members of the public can make statements, and the Board is expected to vote.