Cellular transmitters approved for Morristown rooftop

The Morristown zoning board votes for rooftop antennae proposed by New Cingular Wireless, Nov. 2, 2022. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin
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It took six virtual hearings, but New Cingular Wireless PCS LLC (formerly AT&T) finally has Morristown’s okay to erect a dozen antennae atop apartments at 181 South St.

The zoning board voted 5-2 on Wednesday to allow New Cingular to place its antennae near Verizon’s antennae, which have operated for several years on the six-story building, formerly known as The Ambassador.

Board members had pressed New Cingular to locate its antennae farther back on the roof, away from view. But expert witnesses for the company testified this would require structural improvements, which the landlord opposed because such work might disturb tenants.

New Cingular cellular antennae are planned for the former Ambassador in Morristown. Photo courtesy of Topology

So, as a condition of approval, the board directed the company to work with an historical architect to design screening to shield the antennae from view on South and James streets.

New Cingular had proposed shielding that replicated design elements of the building. Instead, the board wants something that complements its appearance.

Another condition calls for New Cingular and town officials to investigate whether a gas-powered backup generator can be placed on the roof, instead of outside a ground-floor apartment. Additionally, the company agreed to remove its antennae if it abandons the site.

Board Chairman Steve Pylypchuk and member James Bednarz voted against the project, which they felt could have been placed elsewhere downtown.

“I don’t like the fact that it’s on a residential building, even when other antennas are up there,” said Pylypchuk, who described the apartments as an iconic Morristown landmark.

While the town’s antenna ordinance endorses co-locating antennae from rival companies onto the same structures, it also says residential buildings should be spared when possible, Pylypchuk said, after hearing 90 minutes of testimony from a New Cingular radio frequency engineer, planner and architect.

Eight antennae will go on the building’s northwest corner, at South and James, and four will sit on the building’s east side, facing the Kings supermarket, the chairman said.

New Cingular told the board the antennae will benefit residential customers and motorists by plugging coverage gaps along South, Elm and James streets; Mt. Kemble, Macculloch and Maple avenues; Ogden Place; and Lidgerwood Parkway.

The company has described such enhancements to its LTE mobile network as a step towards rolling out nationwide 5G service. Improvements to the existing network are anticipated to enable New Cingular to deliver FirstNet, an exclusive national emergency communications service approved by the Federal Communications Commission.

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