Superior Court judge grants stay to preclude construction of cell tower

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FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – A stay to halt T-Mobile’s construction of a cellular communications tower at 169 Robertsville Road, Freehold Township, has been granted by the New Jersey Superior Court until litigation involving the cell tower concludes.

The court granted the stay on March 4, according to Township Administrator Peter Valesi. Valesi said T-Mobile did not file any opposition to Freehold Township’s request for a stay. As a result of the decision, T-Mobile will not be able to begin construction of the proposed cell tower unless the court eventually rules in the company’s favor.

The property at 169 Robertsville Road in a semi-rural area of Freehold Township was targeted for a cell tower by T-Mobile in 2007. For years, residents of the neighborhood have voiced their opposition to any plan that calls for the construction of a cell tower at the property.

The Freehold Township Zoning Board of Adjustment, which has since been combined with the Freehold Township Planning Board, denied the company’s application in 2009.

In 2011, T-Mobile received permission from the Superior Court to build the cell tower. No construction has ever taken place.

In late 2017, municipal officials issued a stop work order against the cell tower’s construction after equipment and materials to drill foundations were reported to have been mobilized onto 169 Robertsville Road.

Township officials said the stop work order was issued because the construction permit T-Mobile possessed had expired and the company no longer had a valid construction permit.

An application from T-Mobile to install the cell tower was subsequently denied by zoning officer Pasquale Popolizo in 2018.

In denying the application, Popolizo noted that the Superior Court ruled in favor of T-Mobile due to a gap in its coverage area, which was based on evidence that was produced before the zoning board during the hearings in 2008 and 2009.

Among other reasons, the zoning officer’s denial in 2018 was based on coverage differences between 2007 and 2017 and nearly a decade having elapsed since T-Mobile provided evidence of a coverage gap.

Later that year, representatives of T-Mobile appeared before the Planning Board to appeal Popolizo’s order. They said the zoning officer did not have the authority to deny the cell tower’s application because of its prior approval in Superior Court. In the end, board members voted to uphold the zoning officer’s denial of the application.

The construction of the cell tower at 169 Robertstville Road has moved to court and has continued to face opposition from residents. Residents who live near the property voiced their concerns before the Township Committee in February, citing potential impacts on the environment, property values and their way of life.

Members of the governing body said they could not comment on the matter because it is in litigation, but said they would continue to represent the residents in the matter.

“We are fully aware of why you (the residents) are here and we are continuing to act on your behalf,” Committeeman David Salkin said.

“We hear what you are saying and will do what is in our power for the best outcome for Freehold Township residents,” Deputy Mayor Lester Preston said.

The proposed cell tower has also been met with concern from state Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), who represents Freehold Township in Trenton. In a press release, Gopal called for T-Mobile to hear the concerns of residents to reach a compromise that would benefit all parties.

“Building a cell tower in a residential location is difficult to justify, especially in an area that Freehold Township officials have invested so much time and effort into beautifying for residents,” Gopal wrote. “The landscape and community is one of the many reasons residents chose to call this neighborhood home for their families.”

After the stay was granted, resident Ron Saputo said, “This has been a difficult and expensive process over the years for our community and we are pleased the stay was granted, but the more important battle is winning the appeal in the court case. Recent court decisions have changed the direction of these types of cases in the local government’s favor and we hope this continues.

“In the meantime, we would hope T-Mobile sees how the community has united against the proposed placement of a cell tower on residential property in a designated Scenic Corridor in the Lake Topanemus Watershed,” he said. “This would be in total disregard to the intent of the Freehold Township master plan and the Monmouth County master plan. Additionally, should the tower go up, literally in our backyards, the loss of our property values would be significant. It would be a fatal blow to our life’s investment.
“Hopefully, T-Mobile will come to their senses and work with Freehold Township and the Planning Board to investigate and to agree upon an alternative commercial site, not this environmentally sensitive site, to construct a cell tower or to investigate other technologies. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask for the greater public good, does it?” Saputo said.