If T-Mobile’s second try in a year to push their cellphone tower plan through the West Deptford zoning board was Goliath v. David II, this time, Goliath came armed with a seemingly unstoppable court order.
But at the end of the night, David—or at least the residents of Sherwood Estates and Pennfield—won out yet again, as the zoning board rejected T-Mobile’s application for site plan approval in a 3-2 vote, to riotous applause from the two dozen residents who showed up for the marathon meeting.
It may have just been another battle in a war of attrition, however, as unofficial residents’ spokesmen David Sileo and Jeff Hansen acknowledged afterward.
While Hansen said he expects another lawsuit from T-Mobile, he said he holds out hope the cell tower can be struck down permanently—though he said it’ll be a tough task.
“We need help from the township,” Hansen said.
While that support may not have been voiced during the meeting, a pair of township committee members were there—committeeman Sam Cianfarini sat in on the entire meeting, while committeewoman Donna Szymborski sat in for a portion of the hearing.
Unlike , which mainly dealt with whether it was acceptable to place the tower in a residential zone, this round focused primarily on T-Mobile’s site plan, and what would go into building the tower.
Coming off a , T-Mobile’s team came in laser-focused on touting the merits of their site plan, and ignored criticism from residents that frequently targeted the issues the court decision rendered moot.
Much of the company’s testimony came from engineer Pete Tsoukalas, who went over the project in detail, describing the 156-foot galvanized steel monopole tower, the potential for multiple antenna platforms and what could be done to help screen the site from the nearby residents.
He even talked about what would happen in a catastrophic scenario where either a portion of or the entire tower came crashing to the ground, which Tsoukalas said was extremely unlikely.
“I’ve never seen or heard of a tower failing due to wind loading or any sort of natural causes like that,” he said.
And something that could take down a cellphone tower would probably take down houses as well, according to T-Mobile’s attorney, Gary Forshner.
“These are typically the last things standing,” he said.
Forshner made plenty of concessions as the night’s testimony went on, agreeing to most of the zoning board’s recommendations for extra tree buffers, and even offered to let the board decide how many antenna platforms the tower would be allowed to support.
Board members’ concerns went beyond those issues, and several expressed concerns about not having had a chance to visit the site, which is off the access road to the Marple farm property off Jessup Road, directly behind Pennfield.
“I don’t know how we can approve this without seeing it,” Jerry Maher said.
Residents, too, brought up concerns, from the lack of signs pointing to the address off Jessup Road—the entrance is an unmarked gravel driveway a few hundred yards down from the entrance to Pennfield—to the current condition of the property, which has a number of derelict cars and trucks scattered along the rear portion of the driveway.
And while T-Mobile was seeking another hardship variance, which would allow them to build the tower just 15 feet off the access road, Beth Rodack questioned whether the hardship on the roughly 100 property owners nearby would be considered.
“You can’t tell me that our property values won’t be affected,” she said.
Though Forshner made another appeal to a narrow focus on the company’s site plan, which he argued fit with West Deptford’s standards, the planning board rejected a move to give T-Mobile preliminary approval, which would’ve required a special meeting later in the month for final approval to meet a 30-day court-imposed deadline.
While T-Mobile could send it back into court, Sileo said he believes the residents will be the ultimate victors, and that there are simply too many hurdles for T-Mobile to overcome.
“Just leave,” he told Forshner. “Go elsewhere, because it’s not going to happen.”