Verizon Wireless will make its case to install five so-called “small cell” nodes in Lavallette when its representatives appear before the planning board later this week. The meeting, which is expected to garner heavy attention, will be held remotely over Zoom due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
Wireless nodes that carry ultra-fast data transfers – speeds high enough to support streaming and challenge wired cable connections – are proliferating across the world, but have attracted sporadic protests by some communities. A group of Lavallette residents have opposed the installation of the next-generation technology for about two years since it was first proposed. Since then, the borough has adopted regulations on 5G nodes – essentially small versions of traditional cellular transceivers that operate closer to ground-level using millimeter wave technology – but has also learned that municipal governments have limited oversight under federal regulations designed to ensure progression of wireless technology.
The planning board will meet Wednesday, Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. to consider the installation of five small cell nodes in the borough. The nodes are proposed to be located at:
- Near 2000 Grand Central Avenue (Pole # BT444)
- Near 3 Liggett Road (Pole # 403488)
- Near 103 Brown Avenue (Pole # BT45LAA)
- Near 120 Washington Avenue
- Near 1704 Grand Central Ave (Pole # BT4166)
The proposed locations of the nodes are locations where utility poles already exist, Borough Administrator Robert Brice has said. Those poles will be replaced. When the application is heard by the planning board, public comment and examination of witnesses will be allowed at designated time periods, but the hearing is held in a quasi-judicial setting, and board members are tasked with balancing public input and testimony with federal, state and local regulations. Deviating from those regulations risks litigation.
“Verizon will be remote as well with their representatives, so they will be available for comments and questions,” Brice said. “The meeting is meant to have the planning board members review the application in the context of conformance with our ordinance.”
Lavallette’s small cell node ordinance bans new structures five feet between the paved street and the nearest property line, except curbs and sidewalks, gravel and similar landscaping. Wireless providers will need to obtain permits to place any equipment on utility poles, street lights or any other existing objects in the right of way and enter into an agreement with the borough. Furthermore, any new poles must not be more than 18-inches from the curb line nor taller than 35-feet (or 110 percent higher than neighboring utility poles). Agreements must last a minimum of 15 years and be approved by a vote of the borough council. There are also a slew of size requirements for both the antennas and networking switch boxes to which they would be connected.
Wireless providers would be required to pay a permit fee of $500 for one to five antennas and $100 for each addition antenna.
A copy of the entire ordinance is embedded below this story.
Borough officials acknowledged that public interest in the matter is high, and an in-person hearing was preferred by many residents, however the borough attorney advised against a public hearing since it would violate Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order on indoor gatherings. At Monday night’s borough council meeting, a new audio system was utilized through Zoom which greatly improved audio quality and volume, as well as the system for members of the public to participate using a “raise hand” function.
“Because of the current situation we’re in, and what we have as far as facilities and the safety of the public, we are going ahead with the virtual meeting,” said Brice. “It was weighed, and determined that because we have this feature now, we will be able to get just as much input from the public as if we had a live meeting.”
In preparation for the meeting, Verizon Wireless has put together an information website specifically for Lavallette, while the borough publicized an article from the state League of Municipalities which covers the scope of the municipal government’s ability to regulate 5G antennas.
A link to the join the Zoom meeting and participate will be posted on the borough’s homepage before the meeting begins. The full agenda for the meeting has already been posted.