By JOHN T. WARD
The borough council, acting under the threat of unilateral action on the siting issue from Verizon, authorized telecom consultant Declan O’Scanlon to work with the phone giant to get the tower approved and built on the ocean side of borough hall Tuesday night.
The tower, which would be the first in town, would improve spotty phone service to residents and visitors, especially in the summer, when bandwidth demand soars, local officials say. The absence of a tower has also been cited as a potential safety issue in the town, which sits on a narrow spit of sand between the Atlantic Ocean and the Shrewsbury River.
Building a tower on publicly owned land would generate income for the town, said Councilman Brian Kelly. But public resistance to having it in the heart of town has kept it unbuilt after 14 years of discussion. And after Hurricane Sandy, elected officials have been “none too keen” on the parking lot as a location, Kelly said.
Now, however, Verizon has lost patience with the delays. In a recent meeting with borough officials, the carrier’s representatives said they would look for private property on which to build.
“They are done with us,” Councilman Marc Leckstein told a resident during the public portion Tuesday’s council meeting. “They said they are going to a private property owner. They told us that.”
Still, residents spoke in opposition to the change. One, Bob Malone, implored the council not to relocate the tower site without first doing a comprehensive review aimed at finding the best location.
“Maybe we ought to buy a piece of property,” he said. “We need to take a fresh look and say, ‘where are we, where are we going?'”
“No one on this council has been more anti-cell-tower than me,” Leckstein responded. “But the reality is, if we don’t control the situation, they will find a private owner. And unfortunately, because of [Hurricane] Sandy someone will see this as their buyout.”
Well-established law and legal precedent indicates that no matter what the zoning of the property the carrier chose, the borough would lose any challenge it brought through the courts, said Leckstein, a lawyer who specializes in municipal land use law.
“We will lose” at every level of the court system,” he said.
The council authorized O’Scanlon, who also serves as a state Assembly member, to work with Verizon on the logistics of designing and obtaining necessary permits, including state CAFRA permits, for the location east of borough hall.
O’Scanlon told the council he’s “appreciative that Verizon is still willing to work with us,” though he added he was “not sure this new location will fly” with the carrier.
He estimated the tower would be 110 to 120 feet tall.