By Chris Rotolo
LITTLE SILVER – With a widely unpopular cell tower looming just beyond the Little Silver Borough Hall meeting room, the governing body is taking steps to ensure more control over future telecommunications projects.
New legislation introduced Monday is in response to the cell tower, a 95-foot monopole erected in May of 2017 as part of a 25-year lease with Verizon that took many by surprise.
This tower has been the subject of public outcry over the past 12 months, with residents – including the grassroots organization Little Silver Against the Cell Tower – urging Mayor Robert C. Neff Jr. and the borough council to break the contract and remove the device.
The borough has had little success finding any precedent or legal options supporting such an action.
But going forward, a new proposed ordinance will set procedures for telecommunication companies desiring to site wireless service facility equipment and wireless poles within the public right of way. In its legislation, the governing body is citing the Federal Telecommunications Act (1996), which preserves a local government’s authority to manage the public rights of way around town, as well as the placement, construction and modification of personal wireless service facilities.
“Phone companies don’t necessarily need giant cell towers anymore,” said Neff at the borough council meeting. “They have new devices, small boxes that attach to telephone poles, and that caused us to raise some questions. Is there a formal notification process? Can a telecommunications company put up a box and not tell anybody? Now, in Little Silver, they can’t. They’ll need permission.
“With this ordinance we’re making sure that if these companies want to install equipment they have to come before the council with an application; and they have to formally notify every resident within 500 feet of the site of what’s happening. Their license application will be public, and that makes for a more safe, informed and educated community.”
Council member Michael Holzapfel said, “This is a big step in the right direction towards transparency in a rapidly advancing technological age.”
“I think there was an issue with communication when the cell tower first went up, and we tried to address that component. It’s really just about keeping people informed in an era when this technology and these devices are changing so quickly,” Holzapfel added.
“There was a very public process, but some people still maintained that they didn’t know about the cell tower,” Neff said. “The Two River Times wrote a couple of stories, one of which featured a very large picture of a cell tower. Other publications covered it as well and there were a number of public meetings. But still, people were taken aback by it. This new ordinance augments our ability to get the word out.”
According to council member Christopher Healy, the adoption of this ordinance was “groundbreaking,” as Little Silver became the first municipality in Monmouth County to address this telecommunication installation issue.
“We’re very proud of this, because it is an important step, and we’ve been told by the county that we’re at the forefront of this issue,” Healy said to his fellow council members and the small audience of residents on hand. “We beat everyone else in the county to the punch here, and were able to do so because of the public comments we received.”
A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for May 21.
This article was first published in the May 10-17, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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