By Jenna O’Donnell |
LITTLE SILVER – A deeply unpopular cell tower built behind borough hall last month was again the issue at hand as the mayor and council gathered for a special meeting to explore their options and to answer questions from a concerned community.
The most common query voiced by the dozens of residents that filled borough hall at the June 26 meeting was, “What happens next?”
Mayor Robert C. Neff replied that the answer depended on the closed-door executive session that the special meeting had been called to convene, during which the mayor and council would hear and discuss their legal options with Borough Attorney Meghan Bennet Clark.
“What happens next is a very difficult question to answer,” he said.
Many residents have urged the mayor and council to find a way out of their contract with Verizon, which erected the 95-foot monopole in May and has a 25-year lease with the borough. But removing the tower would be unprecedented, according to Clark, who noted that there is no existing case where a municipality succeeded in ousting a tower that is already built.
“This has never been done,” Clark said. “A lot of options depend on Verizon. This is a moving situation.”
This was the first opportunity since May for the mayor and council to meet and discuss their options after weeks of public outcry from residents, who have organized the grassroots group Little Silver Against the Cell Tower. Before the closed-door meeting, Councilman Daniel J. O’Hern Jr. assured residents that the private session was necessary due to the legal and contractual nature of the discussions they needed to have.
“It’s important that we’re able to discuss these issues,” he said. “It’s not that we’re trying to hide anything from you. We will try to be as open and honest as we can in communicating with you what’s going on.”
O’Hern added that he regretted his part in the decision to allow the cell tower.
“At the time I thought it was the right decision,” he said, noting that he and other council members had been lulled into a false sense of security when no one had come out against the tower during the meetings and hearings that took place before it was approved. “It was a lesson for all of us and I should have known better.”
In hopes of improving communications in the future, the borough is actively working to create a Facebook page and a newsletter. Councilman AJ McNally said he hoped more residents would continue to come to meetings and be active in sharing their opinions with the council.
“This decision, unfortunately, was made in a vacuum,” McNally said, “as a result of nobody showing up.”
During the public hearing prior to the executive session, residents restated concerns that the cell tower would negatively impact property value and cause unknown health problems for children in nearby homes and Markham Place School. One mother, close to tears, described searching for another school to send her eighth grader to in September and pleaded with the council to find a way to move it before then.
Others urged the mayor and council to fight for them and make the right decision for the town.
Some on the council shared residents’ aversion to the cell tower’s aesthetics, comparing it to a piece of furniture that doesn’t fit in the living room and needs to be returned.
“I don’t like it,” said Councilman Dane Mihlon. “I promise you that we’re going to do everything that we can to try and deal with it. We are your neighbors. We work for you. We get it.”
Having council members come out specifically to discuss options for the cell tower at a special meeting was a good thing according to Marc Gasperino, one of two borough residents who sits on the ad hoc committee formed to address concerns with the cell tower.
“The big deal for me is that this meeting is happening,” Gasperino said. “The council has listened to us and they are having this discussion.”
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