Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 11
 
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
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Cell Tower Proposal Could Fill Dead Air, but Residents Worry

Matthew Hersh

As Township Hall looks for ways to improve what police are calling a radio signal dead zone for patrols and emergency services, residents showed concern this week over one of those solutions: the installation of a cellular radio tower on a parcel of public land near the Great Road and Cherry Valley Road.

Earlier this year, the Township issued a request for proposals from potential contractors for the cell tower project, slated for a municipal easement along Cherry Valley Road, in response to police and Princeton Fire Department complaints concerning “dead spots” along the northwestern portion of the Township. Specific signal losses have been cited along areas between Cherry Hill Road and Province Line Road, near the Great Road.

But the bid proposals sparked a response from residents in that area who worried that Township Hall was expediting a project that, some said, needed more evaluation.

Township Committee members explained that putting the project out to bid was part of the evaluation process since the feasibility of the job is determined by potential contractors. “Our top priority is emergency services,” said Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand Monday night during an informal reports hearing where about 20 residents from the Heather Lane area appeared unified in their concern.

David Gray, one of the Heather Lane residents, said the appearance of the Township seeking bidders made the cell tower project look as if it were moving forward.

“If the Township solicits a bid for a specific thing at a specific place, it sounds like they have a plan,” he said, adding that one of the “big concerns” was home values in the neighborhood. Mr. Gray also urged the Township to organize a neighborhood meeting where resident concerns could be heard. That meeting appears to be slated for April 8 at 7 p.m. at Township Hall.

Ms. Marchand attempted to quell Mr. Gray’s concerns over the perceived advanced state of the project, saying that putting the project out to bid is part of the vetting process where bidders and the Township evaluate the merits of the proposal.

“We are under no obligation to accept anything from potential bidders,” she said, adding that the project’s bottom line is enhanced police communications. “Cell phone reception is secondary,” the mayor said.

Township Committeeman Chad Goerner pointed out that the site of the proposed tower lies on the municipal open space roster, “so that’s a concern.” Mr. Goerner said the Township needed to further examine other options.

Committeewoman Vicky Bergman agreed: “There’s a lot we don’t know about the communications in that area.”

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In other news, Township Committee Monday night introduced a host of road improvement ordinances, including the appropriation of $13,500 for sidewalks along Braeburn Drive and Meadowbrook Drive; a $3,800 project replacing sidewalks along a portion of Battle Road; and a $20,100 project that would result in a concrete sidewalk along the portion of Franklin Avenue near the Westminster Choir College. All sidewalk projects would levy a 50 percent cost on affected residents.

A public hearing for the sidewalk projects is slated for Township Committee’s regular April 7 meeting.

The Township passed an ordinance by a 4-1 vote amending smoke detector provisions and adding carbon monoxide alarm requirements in the Township. The ordinance stipulates that the Bureau of Fire Prevention inspects all one and two single-family dwellings and multi-family dwellings for compliance with the Uniform Fire Safety Act smoke detector and carbon monoxide. The application fee for certification: $60, up from the previous $35 rate, with incremental increases after 10 days of a unit’s occupation cause some concern.

Sandra Persichetti, executive director of Princeton Community Housing, which oversees a significant portion of affordable housing in the Princetons, worried that the fees would be too high for residents living in low- and moderate-income housing. “We’re committed to the safety of our residents, but we work on such a tight budget, that if one rental check bounces, we can’t pay our bills.

“Our sites are all government subsidized, but when you’re using next month’s rent to pay last months’ bills, it’s a lot,” she said.

Municipal Fire Official Ron Dilapo said that his department was trying to stay in line with state regulations.

“What we’re trying to do is protect the residents of the Borough and Township, We’re not trying to make a profit on this — we’re covering our fees,” Mr. Dilapo said.

Deputy Mayor Bernie Miller voted against the measure, saying there were “too many unanswered questions about how to deal with this regarding affordable housing and we shouldn’t do this until we have more questions.”

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