Cell tower opponents prepare for battle

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:27

    Coalition organizers vow they’re in it for the long haul, By Jennifer Knocha Vernon — The residents of Silver Spring Drive and the surrounding area aren’t taking the potential arrival of a cell tower lying down. Instead, they are standing together to make sure that this tower, and others like it, don’t find a home in Vernon Township. “How would you feel driving by one of these every morning?” asked Andy Pitsker, a member of the Glenwood ACTs coalition. “Once they break this rule once, they multiply. There will be others.” The group, started by Patrick and Peg Distasi, is rallying residents to attend the May 13 Land Use Board meeting, where Verizon will present its case to the town. They are applying for five different variances, including ones for having an undersized lot, and exceeding the allowed height for a communications tower. They are also trying to set up a tower in a residential zone, which is not permitted under Vernon Township code. The coalition, which held a public meeting attended by dozens of people on April 30, has also taken the step of hiring Ira Weiner, an attorney with Beattie Padovano LLC in Montvale. Weiner, who specializes in zoning and planning law, is a well-known local figure and former Vernon mayor. He also has extensive experience dealing with cases involving cell phone towers. He warned the crowd that fighting the company wouldn’t be simple or quick. “It’s likely that there will be several meetings — some cases have 15 or 20 meetings. It’s a big commitment of time.” The cell phone companies also have money on their side — the ability to bring in multiple witnesses, including radio frequency engineers and planners, and drag out the case as long as needed. In Weiner’s experience, this is where citizen’s groups also falter. Hiring opposing engineers and other professionals could also cost in excess of $5,000 each, and while the Distasis have committed to paying for Weiner’s fees, the group will need help covering all the other expenses. Weiner also pointed out that Verizon has extensive experience in dealing with zoning and variances. “Cell phone companies are a battle-scarred group. They go in expecting to face opposition, and if they fail, they sue.” Ready for battle The group is ready for that possibility, according to Peg Distasi. “We’re preparing this as if it’s going to court. We ‘re not going to take the quick and easy way and get a lot of public but no experts.” But a public presence is still important, according to Weiner. That’s exactly what the Glenwood ACTS coalition is hoping for, according to Patrick Distasi. “This is a grassroots effort. It started with four people and then it went up to six people and it’s been growing ever since. The response from people has been wonderful.”