By court order, it wasn't supposed to go like this.
T-Mobile won a lawsuit in May against the West Deptford zoning board to get variances and waivers for their proposed cell phone tower on Jessup Road. The company even agreed to a settlement with the board that called for approval of the site plans for the project.
Yet, when the vote finally happened on Tuesday night, T-Mobile found its applications denied once again.
At the meeting, the board denied T-Mobile's site plans for the tower, as well as a settlement agreement that required the board to approve both preliminary and final site plans for the project by a vote of 5-2.
This is the third time that the site plans for the cell tower have been denied and the second time they've been denied since state Superior Court Judge Anne McDonnell ruled last year in favor of T-Mobile in a lawsuit against the zoning board.
The vote was a bit surprising to some the residents of Sherwood Estates and Pennfield who came out to voice their displeasure about the proposed tower. Homeowners have rallied against the tower's placement in a residential area. T-Mobile’s plan, as first presented, called for a fenced-in 150-foot tower with antennas that extend six feet above the tip to be placed in what’s now a farm field, which sits directly behind homes in Pennfield and just beyond the treeline from Sherwood Estates.
At the meeting's start, zoning board Solicitor John Alice emphasized that the settlement agreement hammered out between him and T-Mobile attorney Gary Forshner required the board to approve both the preliminary and final site plans. But he also recommended that the zoning board seek to appeal McDonald's ruling in the Appellate Division of Superior Court in the coming months, making the odds of another site plan denial look a bit bleak.
Just a few minutes later, as T-Mobile was setting up its presentation, a few grumbles in the crowd called for the board to “just pass the thing already.”
Despite Alice's recommendation, residents still came out in full force to make their appeals heard. Some residents directed their anger at T-Mobile, while others simply appealed to the board to not go along with the settlement.
David Sileo has been one of the most vocal of the residents in this case. He spoke recently at both township's close-out and reorganization meetings about T-Mobile's plan. On Tuesday night, Sileo gave a presentation to the zoning board on why the tower plans should not be approved.
“You don't have to approve this,” he said to the board as he concluded. “You have to think with your heart.”
Another resident, Mike Amdaloro, brought about a different thought. He pleaded to both sides to think about different options that would keep the case from going to court, but also keep the tower away from the current proposed location.
“Litigation is not a viable option,” he said. “We are looking at the board to find a compromise.”
Nevertheless, the zoning board opted to deny the site plans for T-Mobile once again, a decision that will most certainly drag the matter on into the future. Prior to the vote, Alice said there is a chance T-Mobile could challenge the zoning board's right to an appeal and pursue further legal action if the board voted to deny the site plans.
James Robinson, vice-chairman of the zoning board, was one of the two members who voted to approve the site plans and the settlement. He said that he felt it was the best thing to do to simply approve the settlement and worry about winning an appeal of the lawsuit in the future.
Now, the zoning board's decision puts the ball back into T-Mobile's court and opens up the possibility that further legal action may be pursued. Forshner declined to comment on the result of the vote on Tuesday night.
For more on the T-Mobile cell tower, read:
- West Deptford Zoning Board Tanks T-Mobile Tower
- T-Mobile Gets Second Rejection on West Deptford Tower
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