By Mayor Neal Rochford
I believe every Haddonfield resident should have strong and reliable cell service.
For years, Haddonfield residents have come to me and voiced their frustration with the poor cell reception in town. This issue has only grown more apparent as so many of us have shifted to working from home during the past year. With or without COVID, work from home is here to stay and Haddonfield residents need reliable cell service to ensure that we can maintain the communication needed to be successful in our jobs. Residents also need reliable service to stay in contact with family, handle emergencies, participate in remote learning, and so much more. Capacity needs to be upgraded in order for Haddonfield not to fall behind in the Information Age.
In 2017, the Commissioners were given an opportunity to remedy this issue when we were approached by Verizon to build a new cell tower, which would greatly enhance the cell coverage throughout Haddonfield. The Commissioner of Public Works at the time worked with Verizon to find an ideal location for the tower, eventually agreeing on a site at the Public Works facility. The site is isolated in an area used for storage and the view of the tower would be minimal as there is plenty of tree coverage. Verizon determined that the site would greatly improve cell coverage in areas of Haddonfield with poor reception.
A contract was worked out and signed off between Verizon and the Borough. We made a mistake in handling the process. The project should have gone out for a bid to lease the site and awarded by resolution. The Borough should have been more inclusive in presenting the tower project to the community.
I believe the Borough should proceed now to have the tower built with better communication with our residents. It may not happen in the short time I have left in office, but I feel strongly that it should be addressed quickly. No matter where the Borough decides to place the tower, there is going to be some opposition. I believe the greater public good is being served by improving cell coverage in Haddonfield..
Let’s look at some of the opposition to the tower:
The tower would emit radio frequencies that cause health problems: Studies by the FCC, FDA, National Cancer Society, World Health Organization, and Canadian Government have found no evidence of adverse health risk from the towers. The amount of RF signals coming off the tower is well below FCC guidelines. Thousands of towers sit on government buildings, hospitals, universities, and private buildings throughout the country without issue. I have never received a complaint from a resident about ill health effects caused by the other cell towers in Haddonfield, including the one at the water tower that has been in place for years.
The tower would only benefits Verizon customers: Verizon would be required to sublease the tower to other carriers. Everyone who has cell service in Haddonfield would benefit.
The Borough did not get a good deal: Some have claimed that Verizon or a similar carrier should be paying hundreds of thousands per year to lease the land. Based on our research, there is no evidence to support a significantly higher lease than what was negotiated.
The tower will adversely affect home values: The real estate market in Haddonfield is strong, with home listings often selling in a matter of days and with multiple offers above the asking price. I have not received one concern from a Realtor that a tower near a residential neighborhood would cause home values to drop. In fact, I have spoken to Realtors that have told me that some home buyers test to see how strong cell service is in the home before buying.
The cell tower is being placed in a park: The proposed tower would be sited in the Public Works facility next to a wooded area. The Public Works facility is so isolated that many residents are not aware of its location. The area is currently used for storage that would be moved to another location within Public Works. Very few people ever venture into this area and the trees in the park area will block much of the tower from public view.
Deed restrictions: There have been other issues such as deed restrictions on the site that can be resolved. The parcel in question has changed back and forth with the County several times in the last century. Several times in the last fifty years the Borough has worked to untangle the Public Works facility in the deed from the County when it was conveyed to the Borough.
In conclusion …
I hope everyone will take a good look at the proposal and see that the benefits of a cell tower far exceed any negatives. It won’t benefit future generations if Haddonfield is known as a great town with lousy cell service.
Haddonfield should embrace this opportunity to strengthen our connectivity for the future. Part of the mandate for the Commissioners — present and future — is investing into the infrastructure of Haddonfield, including strong, reliable cell and data service for everyone!
It is my hope that the candidates and future commissioners will show leadership on an issue that affects the quality of life for everyone in Haddonfield.