for Montclair Local

Residents surrounding the site for a proposed AT&T telecommunications facility at 310 and 320 Orange Road acknowledge that their cellular signals have gaps but lament the health and aesthetic aspects of connectivity. 

Councilwoman Renée Baskerville held a community meeting on Jan. 28 in the Pine Street Firehouse with five panelists comprised of town officials and residents to discuss the project’s impact before an application goes to the Board of Adjustment in April or May. New Cingular Wireless PCS wants to install an AT&T, 65-foot monopole containing six concealed antennas, as well as a generator and related equipment at the site of a mixed-use building at 310 Orange Road; and 12 antennas on the roof of the adjacent building at 320 Orange Road. The property is owned by Viral Patel of South End Realty and is situated in a Neighborhood Commercial zone and across from the Montclair Local office and near Nishuane School, senior residences, a daycare center, and a restaurant. 

“I don’t know what effect such a large structure would have,” Baskerville said. “We already have three or four carriers in this area. What’s the cumulative effect of radiofrequency emissions from this and the existing telecommunications equipment?”

A rendering of the proposed monopole.
A rendering of the proposed monopole.

The telecommunications equipment itself would emit radiofrequency exposure levels “far below” the 34.5 percent of the applicable FCC standard, but collectively can increase with other equipment in the area, noted panelist and resident Marty Meyers, a retired Bell Labs design technician. According to the application documents, continuous exposure at 100 percent of the FCC limit is considered by the scientific community to be just as safe as continuous exposure at one percent of FCC limit.

The monopole can eliminate coverage gaps on Graham Terrace, Wayside Place and Harrison Avenue. Other sites considered for the equipment installation were Rosedale Cemetery and Nishuane School. Those options were scrapped due to perceptions about health effects, Baskerville noted.

Township attorney and panelist Ira Karasick educated residents on how to provide their input to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The board cannot consider testimony related to health concerns about the monopole, as per Federal Communications Commission (FCC) legislation. In addition, the council has no direct authority on decision-making related to the application, he noted.

“The FCC standards are based on outmoded technology. If a radiofrequency expert says there’s a gap in coverage, the board accepts that testimony. Anyone can bring their own experts to talk about coverage,” Karasick said, noting that the gaps in coverage are inside structures, not exterior.

The facts over who has decision power over where telecommunications companies can add equipment did not sit well with the resident panelists and resulted in a rebuke by Baskerville, prompting Karasick to caution her that “we’re on the same side.” He added that he is simply providing residents with information about the zoning approval process.

The zoning board would have to show substantial detriment in order to deny the application. 

Under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, no local or state statute may prohibit the ability to provide interstate or intrastate telecommunications services. If an application is denied, substantial detriment and other factors must apply. 

“The radio-frequency emission levels from AT&T and other PCS and Cellular communications base stations are similar to that of other two-way communications systems like those used by police, fire and ambulance personnel. In contrast, commercial broadcast systems like television and radio often transmit at power levels 10 times greater or more than the systems discussed above,” writes Andrew M. Petersohn, the applicant’s engineer in application documents. 

The biological effects of non-ionizing radiofrequency exposure on humans has been studied for decades. “To date, there have been no credible studies conducted whose results showed evidence of any adverse health effects on the above exposure limits,” Petersohn concludes.

Panelist Trina Paulus, a local author and monarch butterfly breeder, is unconvinced. She spoke of “26,000 scientists warning about the dangers of 5G.” 

“We’re killing ourselves for convenience,” Paulus said.

Panelist Dawn Muhammad, a Montclair resident who sells electromagnetic field reduction devices, said the emissions affect everyone. “Your body is an electromagnetic field. Adding emissions disrupts energy, cardiovascular system, and sperm levels. WHO [World Health Organization] says your phone is a [possible] cancer agent. It affects every cell in your body. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s not a health issue,” Muhammad said.

Residents who spoke out declined to give their names.

An Orange Road resident said the monopole would be a blight on the landscape and stigmatize the south end as the dumping ground of Montclair.

Panelist and Deputy Township Manager Brian Scantlebury said the applicant may have to go before the Historic Preservation Commission since the site is listed as in a historic area. 

One resident considered the positive aspect of the project. “I live in this area and don’t have good cell service in my home. Is there anything positive about this or is it a NIMBY (not in my back yard) issue?”