Cellphone service provide T-Mobile USA has filed a lawsuit against the city alleging the Board of Adjustment “unreasonably discriminated” in denying approval to set up a dozen wireless antennas atop a building in South Paterson.
T-Mobile needed zoning approval to install 12 panel antennas for wireless telecommunication on top of a four-story building on Eagle Avenue. The board issued a “verbal denial” without providing any written notice the application was rejected, according to the lawsuit filed on Thursday.
“They knew at the hearing they were denied,” said Gerald Thaxton, chairman of the Board of Adjustment, stating the company could have gotten copies of the denial resolution, meeting minutes, and transcript which would spell out the denial in writing.
No resolution was issued and minutes of the Jun. 28 meeting have yet to be adopted by the board, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says the application was denied because members of the board felt radiation from the installation would affect the health of people living in the apartment complex.
“That was one reason why we denied. It’s because of health,” said Thaxton on Friday morning. He said the board was being cautious not to approve something that would adversely impact residents in the area.
No one from the area came out to challenge the application before the board. Area homeowners have to be notified when there’s a pending zoning application in the vicinity of their property. “If you are a rental, the landlord doesn’t have to tell you what’s going on,” said Thaxton.
The board twice denied the application. Once in a 5-2 vote on Apr. 12 and a second time in a 4-3 vote on Jun. 28, 2018, according to the lawsuit. Both times board member Ramon Joaquin voted in favor of the application.
Joaquin, who works for the police department as a telecommunication specialist, disagreed with his colleagues. He tinkers with antennas and other telecommunication equipment as part of his job.
“It’s not like the antennas are going to emit radiation into the apartments,” said Joaquin. “You’re only going to be affected if you stand in front of it.”
Joaquin said the company had radio frequency engineers, who testified before the board, that the level of radiation was within the federal government’s allowable limit.
T-Mobile attempted to lease a non-residential building on Main Street, but a final agreement was never struck with the landlord.
Joaquin said the firm considered three buildings.
“They claimed that was the most suitable area,” said Thaxton. The company stated in its lawsuit the antennas were needed in the neighborhood to close significant coverage gap in the Clifton-Paterson area.
In its lawsuit, T-Mobile is asking the court to mandate the city grant all permits necessary for it to install the 12 antennas.
Thaxton said a lawyer for T-Mobile had told the board a lawsuit would be filed after the first denial.
The attorneys representing T-Mobile in the case could not immediately be reached for comments on Friday morning.