Verizon Cellular Antennas on Fifth Street

Saturday, September 7, 2013

On the evening of March 17, the Harsimus Cove Association (HCA) distributed 80 letters to Fifth Street residents on the same block as of 238 Fifth Street. (Read the letter.)  Verizon is applying to the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) to get approval for this project.  There are issues with the appropriateness of this project given that it is visible from the public right of way from many vantage points and that it would compromise the integrity of the Harsimus Cove historic district.

About 20 residents showed up to the meeting and half of those spoke out against the application during the public hearing.  After more questioning by the HPC largely based on the points we made, Verizon decided to withdraw their application and to come back in the future with revised plans.

Verizon has since submitted revised plans and they were on last month's (April 22) Historic Preservation Commission meeting agenda.  The decided to carry their application to the next meeting so as to have a "full compliment" of board members since some were missing and others hadn't been appointed by the Mayor.

Verizon agreed to come to our next general meeting on Monday, May 13 at 7:30 PM at Grace Church Van Vorst (2nd Street & Erie Street) to present their plan and answer questions. One major sticking point centers around Verizon's unwillingness to discuss the "Alternatives Analysis" study which is required by the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office.  Verizon's attorney sternly if not rudely stated that he would not supply the analysis to us but it would be presented at the Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA) meeting to be held at a later date.  The problem here is that Verizon is claiming there is only one suitable location, 238 Fifth Street, while providing no evidence to us.  Verizon claims there is a site analysis document on file with the Planning Department, but inquiries into this revealed that no such document has been filed.  The HCA maintains that the Alternatives Analysis would help us validate Verizon's claims as we consider all the factors of the application.

The membership took a vote to oppose Verizon's application as it currently stands. The resolution passed with overwhelming support.

Verizon once again went in front of the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) on Monday, May 20.  After some tough questioning about the (lack of the) alternatives analysis and some abstinence and contempt exhibited by the Verizon attorney, they finally revealed the addresses of the other sites they were considering.  (Note that AT&T has been immediately forthcoming.)  The HPC eventually granted the certificated of appropriateness with only one dissenting vote. However, the HPC made it clear that their votes in favor of the certificate was based upon their expert testimony that all other options were exhausted.  The HCA will venture to verify the claim.  Verizon will now go before the Zoning Board of Adjustments.

Zoning Board of Adjustments Meeting
Thursday, September 19, 6:00 PM (carried from June 20, July 18, August 15)
Council Chambers, City Hall, 280 Grove Street

Verizon is on the third revision of their plans.  While don't have simulations of the roof line based on thse new drawings.

Verizon's 3rd round plans

As you can see in the overhread plan below, Verizon has three "sectors," or groupings of antennas.  The Alpha Sector is on the northside of the building facing the Embankment, the Beta Sector is on the southside of the building and the Gamma Sector is on the westside of the building.  Click on the plan to see a larger size.


Some things to note:

  1. The Alpha Sector (northside) is now mounted on the side of the building instead of on top of the buildig. This was done in an effort to reduce obstructions to the sight line.
  2. The Gamma Sector (westside) is still in the position they moved it to over objections that it was too visible when placed in the southwest corner of the roof. This has caused AT&T to move their western sector to Verizon's old position (southwest) as they had already planned to have their sector in Verizon's new location. This causes aesthetic issues for us due AT&T's sectors having a larger visual footprint. Read the article we posted on AT&T's plans for more details.  In short, our efforts to reduce the visual profile in this area of the building are resulting in a net loss for us.

Verizon's 2nd round sims and plans

Some things to note:

  1. The number of antennas has been reduced from 12 to 6.  That makes it 2 per cluster instead of 4.
  2. The shed has been removed and will no longer be a visual obstruction from the Erie/5th vantage point
  3. The cluster that was on the SW corner has been pushed back but still on the very edge of the building.  It will now be referred to as the west cluster.
  4. The Radio Frequency Engineer Report maps indicate that two locations could be installed to take care of the service gap.  See below.

Radio Frequency Engineering Report

Below are two maps from the Radio Frequency Engineering Report.  The first map is the current coverage map showing the "coverage gap" with 238 Fifth Street, the site of the proposed antennae, as the blue dot.  Red dots show existing Verizon antennae sites.

Also important to note is that the text of the engineering report says that there is no harm in cellular radio frequencies overlapping.  Furthermore, the coverage gap along Marin Blvd around 10th St is not remedied by the proposed site at 238 Fifth St. For these reasons, Verizon's customers and the integrity of the Harsimus Cove and Hamilton Park historic districts would be best served by two sites outside the historic zones, one in the area of Marin and 10th Street and the other in the area of Third Street & Coles Street. Verizon is required to do an alternatives analysis. Were multiple sites considered in this analysis?

Existing Coverage Map

Future Coverage Map

New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)

I've been in touch with the SHPO based on the following tip from this blog, "What to Do if a Cell Tower is Proposed in Your Neighborhood."

Neighborhoods listed as historic districts by the National Historic Preservation Act may have more protections against a cell tower than non-historic neighborhoods. A tower cannot be placed in a historic neighborhood if it can be demonstrated that the tower negatively affects the neighborhood's historic quality.  The Irvington neighborhood was designated a historic district last year, and Kirk Ranzetta helped the neighbors appeal the issue to Oregon's State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

Ranzetta says wireless companies are required to file an application with SHPO, and SHPO has to agree that the neighborhood will not be adversely affected. "The applications are not always full or not always as accurate as they probably should be," Ranzetta says. Neighbors can then file a notice of objection to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). "It's a little bit more of a legal challenge," Ranzetta says, and the FCC is legally required to respond to the objection.

According the SHPO, Verizon and any other mobile carrier who wants to install antennae in a historic district, they must go through the Section 106 process as defined by the Historic Preservation Act.  This process requires that the applicant conduct an "alternatives analysis" whereby the applicant demonstrates their justification for the chosen location with regard to other options. According to the SHPO, Verizon has not yet submitted their alternatives analysis, but this is not abnormal. Applicants often conduct it after community consultation has happened. Given that several members of the community specifically asked about this topic at the last HPC meeting and the given that Verizon has not conducted the alternative analysis, the HCA will request that the analysis be done before any City agency, board or commission grant approval.  In short, we have unanswered questions this analysis would answer.

AT&T's Seeks to Install on the Same Building

On the heels of Verizon is AT&T. Read the blog post about their application. Will T-Mobile be next? 

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