By LINDA G. RASTELLI
After years of grousing by Fair Haven residents about a dead zone of cellphone service, and more than a year of contention over how to resolve it, the borough may at last have hit on a fix.
The borough council this week passed an ordinance this week to lease a landlocked five-acre parcel from Christ Church United Methodist on which the town hopes to build a cell tower.
The plan is likely to be seen as a relief to residents of several neighborhoods that had previously been targeted as the location for a town-owned tower, each proposal for which prompted outcries about property values, aesthetics and safety.
But the plan also creates a new pocket of disgruntlement in and near McCarter Avenue though no residents spoke out against the plan at the council meeting Monday night.
“Some people are unhappy, and I sympathize,” Mayor Mike Halfacre said at the session, during which the council gave unanimous approval to the plan. “But it’s the best solution of the options we have left. It’s the interests of 5,000 residents over those of 200 householders.”
The tower won’t be erected, however, unless the town can convince Verizon Wireless to abandon its application to build a tower of its own on land behind the Church of the Nativity, said Mayor Mike Halfacre.
The two churches are only several hundred yards apart, separated by Fair Haven Fields and the Gentry housing development. On August 9th, the zoning board is scheduled to hear an application from Verizon to put its tower up on the Nativity site. If that application were to be approved, the mayor said, “it’s unlikely the borough would put up a second tower 700 feet away.”
But the borough would appeal such a decision by the zoning board, Halfacre said, because the council has determined that the Christ Church site is a better option.
Council president Thomas Gilmour had worked more on the tower siting question than any other issue, Halfacre noted. Plans to put the tower next to the borough police station or, alternately, to located it on Fair Haven Fields land acquired decades ago with state Green Acres funding both went down in flames.
More recently, residents of the Gentry have been vociferous in challenging both the Verizon plan and the construction of a parking lot and other amenities in the portion of Fair Havens Fields that adjoins their neighborhood. Some of them applauded after Monday’s vote.
Cnvincing Verizon Wireless to drop its zoning board application and instead install its cell technology on the borough towner should not be difficult, Halfacre said, because the carrier will get a solution to the coverage problem much more quickly by cooperating with the town.
“I believe Verizon doesnt really care where” its equipment is installed “as long as it gets a tower, Halfacre said.
The borough hopes to get three other carriers on board, in addition to Verizon, in order to go forward on the Christ Church site, said the mayor.
None have agreed yet, because it was not possible to negotiate until the site was secured. The borough, which will enter a 30-year lease on the Christ Church property, will collect rents on the tower and share the revenue with the church.