The Montclair Township Council was able to get through a full and varied agenda in a 90-minute meeting on November 27, in which they received residents of Gray Street who object to the placement of cell phone antenna poles on their street by Verizon and also received the police department for achieving accreditation.
After bringing up the cell phone poles at the council’s October 23 meeting, Gray Street resident Marlon Brown updated Mayor Robert Jackson and the councilors as to the current state of affairs. Brown said that Verizon was planning to replace a recently installed cell phone pole with a taller one – because the pole originally installed wasn’t big enough. He reiterated the concern he and resident Amy Monaco, who joined Brown at the meeting, have of the possible effects of electromagnetic waves on residents’ health, and he added that the pole is an eyesore. Brown and Monaco represent the interests of 38 households, with 41 children between them, who are opposed to the placement of the poles. The controversy is similar to another issue from 2011, when PSE&G removed mature oak trees to install new overhead wires to serve the Glen Ridge Country Club. Four other permits have been taken out for installing three antennas along Grove Street and one along Watchung Avenue.
Brown said he and Monaco talked to Township Attorney Ira Karasick and proposed a possible Wireless Ordinance Subcommittee to take care of the matter. The two homeowners said they could meet with such a subcommittee and help make decisions on where to place poles and junction boxes in Montclair for cell phone antennas. Karasick said such a group would be a good idea, so long as the council initiates it. He conceded that the township has little authority over 5G cell equipment, but there is some authority, which could be exercised by an ordinance, which is being worked on now.
Mayor Jackson, who described himself as “adamantly opposed” to the Verizon project, offered his take. He said he wanted further information about health issues before anything could be discussed, and he was dissatisfied with the process, which has put everything at a standstill and allowed Verizon to have gotten as far as it is. Karasick concurred, saying that Montclair prefers not to have any such antennas. He said that he did ask Verizon to halt the installation until the township has a chance to deal with the issue and with Verizon.
There is, however, one potential blow to the township’s efforts to limit or regulate cell phone infrastructure. There is a series of federal regulations set to be be handed down by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would give cell phone providers a great deal of freedom in where to place such equipment, leaving municipalities all but unable to object and have any say in such matters. The FCC is chaired by Ajit Pai – coincidentally, a former Verizon lawyer.
Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, a medical doctor, voiced concurring concerns about the electromagnetic waves, and Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo, a frequent critic of the federal government, said the township might have to deal with this issue on the national level if necessary. Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager asked Karasick if there was a possibility that the equipment might be in place within the coming week.
“We haven’t gotten a commitment at this point,” Karasick said. “This has all really just begun . . .. So I can’t say right now that that will happen. I can say that we’re vigilant about it, we’re looking, we’re watching, so we’ve told them our position that we don’t want anything to happen.” He responded to Mayor Jackson’s question about permits that action can be taken against Verizon if the permits were improperly obtained or do not cover the equipment Verizon wants to install. As for the new regulations, Karasick added that municipal governments are seeking the maximum parameters for regulating cell phone equipment, and the regulations – which could be blocked in court – have not gone into effect yet.
The Montclair Police Department was recognized for receiving accreditation from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. Harry Delgado, representing the association, told the council that accreditation is a distinction given to very few New Jersey municipal police forces – only about a handful of the two hundred or so of the state’s municipal police departments have made it through the rigorous process. Accreditation is a sign of improved performance and meeting policing standards, Delgado said, and Montclair has exceeded those requirements. He added that accredited police forces also saves the taxpayers money, being responsible for 11 percent fewer professional liability insurance claims, 18 percent fewer workers’ compensation claims, and 31 percent fewer auto liability claims. Delgado added that accredited police departments can defend themselves better from lawsuits and have more objective evidence of their commitment to resource management and service delivery, resulting in a more disciplined and progressive administration. Montclair Police Chief Todd Conforti accepted the award from Delgado, thanking Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford, Deputy Police Chief Tracy Frazzano, Mayor Jackson and the council, and his department for the teamwork that made this possible.
The council also passed two first-reading ordinances. One, to be referred to the Planning Board, recommended that the density for a possible apartment building on the site of the Hahne’s parking lot be increased from 65 units per acre to 90 units, allowing a possible 74-unit apartment building. Orange Road resident Stephanie Wood, expressing dissatisfaction with the quality of life on her block due to parking problems, said this would only worsen the situation. Mayor Jackson insisted that the parking in the lot would be replaced by public-private shared parking under the building at ground level.
Also, the council voted to increase parking violation fines in a zone bordered North and South Fullerton Avenues to the west, Claremont Avenue to the north, Gates Avenue, Lackawanna Plaza and Greenwood Avenue to the east, and Hawthorne Place to the south be increased to ensure ample on-street parking for residents within that zone. The “Special Parking Zone” is being created in response to the closure of the South Fullerton and South Willow lots during the construction of new parking decks for the Seymour Street arts-district project.
Several proclamations were also passed, including on honoring Montclair Ambulance Unit President Jonathan Hirsh for his long service to the unit and congratulating Montclair resident Mikie Sherrill for her election to the U.S. House. Representative-elect Sherrill, in Washington for orientation, could not attend the council meeting.