The shore community of Belmar is trying to fight the installation of cell towers along its beachfront.

By Jackie Roman | NJ Advance Media for

This story was produced in collaboration with CivicStory as part of the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting project.

Caitlin Donovan lives for her walks along Ocean Avenue in Belmar and the unobstructed views of the ocean tides.

But, the Jersey Shore resident said she’s afraid that scenic view will change if Verizon is allowed to proceed with its plan to install 20 cell towers along Belmar’s beachfront street.

“We’re at the beach almost every single day,” said Donovan, a mother of three. “So, I’m well aware of how dramatically putting up an enormous tower on every single beach entrance will change the entire character of the beach.”

Donovan and other Belmar residents are asking Verizon to abandon its plans to install 5G cell towers on Ocean Avenue in a petition that has amassed more than 2,500 signatures.

The 20 small cell towers — which Verizon says will help bring faster cell and internet service to the area — would resemble street light poles along the avenue in front of the beach, the telecom company said.

A rendering presented by Verizon showing one of the small silver cell towers with an attached street light that would be built along Ocean Avenue in Belmar. The towers are taller than the black street lights that currently line the boardwalk.

But, critics say the project would obstruct views, harm wildlife and hurt property values in the 5,900-resident Monmouth County borough known for its boardwalk and beach.

“Verizon’s plans are excessive, disruptive and disrespectful to our community and our treasured natural resources,” the petition says. “We ask Verizon to stop all plans and to work with the community to find a solution that does not involve placing ugly towers on our beach.”

In a statement, Verizon defended the project and said the cell tower locations “have been extensively vetted and approved by township.”

The debate over cell towers in Belmar goes back several years.

In January 2021, Verizon filed an application with Belmar to obtain permits and approvals to begin a cell tower project. When Belmar failed to respond within the mandatory 90 day window, Verizon filed a complaint in federal court against the borough for missing the deadline.

The two parties settled the case last summer. In November, the township council signed a resolution stating the settlement agreement with Verizon “assures Belmar and its residents that the proposed 5G cellular antennas will be properly located and aesthetically pleasing.”

The 5G cellular antennas proposed by Verizon are considered “small cell towers” with a maximum height of 40 feet, according to the settlement agreement and attached renderings.

Verizon will custom design the poles and affix streetlights to them, under the terms of the agreement. The poles will have electrical outlets for holiday lights and decorations on the towers.

Electricity, maintenance and repair of the street lights will be the responsibility of the borough, according to the deal.

In exchange for access to the towers and public right-of-way, Verizon will pay Belmar $108,000 — the equivalent of $270 each for 20 cell towers per year for 20 years. Verizon will also pay the borough another $5,000 to cover a professional review of the project.

The money is in addition to another $5,000 Verizon previously paid the borough, the settlement states. However, Verizon will deduct the cost of all permits, approvals, professional escrow and any other fees required from anything it pays to Belmar.

The new cell towers would be close to Belmar’s boardwalk.Jim Lowney | For NJ Advance Media

The new cell towers would be close to Belmar’s boardwalk.Jim Lowney | For NJ Advance Media

The new cell towers will benefit the area, Verizon officials said.

“Verizon balances a number of factors in choosing small cell locations, and the final design and placement maximize technical and community needs,” the company said in a statement.

“Verizon’s deployment of new small cells in Belmar provides customers and emergency service providers in our community with enhanced and more reliable wireless voice and data services to meet not only today’s needs, but also those of the future,” the statement said.

However, some Belmar residents are questioning the placement of the cell towers and the settlement agreement the borough entered into to settle Verizon’s lawsuit.

Donovan, who is running for the borough council on a platform against overdevelopment, is part of Belmar Against 5G Towers. The citizens group launched a website, distributed lawn signs and held local meetings to protest the cell tower project.

“Let’s stop these towers through community engagement and direct action,” the group’s website says.

The average cell tower is usually located outdoors on elevated surfaces and stand between 50 and 200 feet high, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

There are currently more than 160,000 registered communication towers taller than 200 feet across the country, according to U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

However, the 5G cell towers proposed in Belmar do not need to be that tall and will only be slightly taller than other street lights in the area, according to Verizon’s renderings.

Verizon said it is building thousands of additional 5G nodes, or small cell towers, as it expands its network. Because the towers use less electricity, they can be built smaller than traditional cell towers. A spokesman for Verizon said the company has small cell towers similar to the ones planned for Belmar throughout the state.

“We’ve deployed our 5G Ultra Wideband service from Sandy Hook down to Cape May. Our focus is on providing our customers with the best, most reliable wireless service wherever they are,” said spokesman Andrew Testa.

Some residents say they are also worried about possible exposure to radiation from the cell towers, citing concerns raised over the years about exposure to the low levels of radio frequency electromagnetic fields from cell towers and cell phones. The Belmar Against 5G Towers website states, “we don’t know if 5G radiation is safe.”

However, scientists and public health organizations say there is no evidence establishing a link between wireless technology, including 5G, and cancer or other illnesses.

“No adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies,” according to the World Health Organization.

The Federal Communications Commissions has also previously said the possibility that a member of the general public could be exposed to excess radio frequency levels from wireless technology is extremely remote.

Belmar residents have also questioned how the 20 cell towers will impact local wildlife. Nearly 7 million birds die due to night-time collisions with communication towers each year, according to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Services.

Most of the birds that collide with towers are night migrating songbirds on their journeys to and from warmer climates for the winter, experts say. The National Audubon Society recommends equipping communications towers with flashing lights to make them more visible to birds.

Verizon did not respond when asked if it would be equipping the cell towers in Belmar with flashing lights.

Belmar is a known nesting site for several endangered bird species, including the American oystercatcher and the piping plover, according to the state Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program.

It’s unclear exactly when Verizon plans to start installing the cell towers. During a May 23 council meeting, Belmar Mayor Gerald Buccafusco said Verizon still needs to obtain permission from Monmouth County for the project because the proposed cell towers would be located in the county’s rights-of-way.

“That gives us time to regroup and strategize how to move forward,” Buccafusco said.

At the same meeting, the mayor also said Belmar retained an attorney specializing in telecommunications. At the attorney’s direction, the town started to revamp its ordinances that cover small cell wireless facilities.

The town plans to add a new ordinance that would give Belmar more protection when dealing with telecommunications companies, Buccafusco said.

Buccafusco, who was elected last November, has voiced his opposition to the cell tower project deal his administration inherited from the previous mayor and council. He would be happy if Verizon took its 20 cell towers to another area.

“The bottom line is we don’t really want them and we’re hoping that they’ll just move on to another municipality,” Buccafusco told NJ Advance Media.

Belmar joins several other New Jersey municipalities fighting cell towers. After consistent pressure from residents upset about cell phone towers planned for the roof of a commercial building, the city council in Ocean City in Cape May County approved a resolution in April limiting the placement of future communication towers.

However, a similar ordinance approved last year limiting the location of wireless utilities in Westfield in Union County is being challenged in state court by PSE&G. The case is still pending.

Researcher Vinessa Erminio contributed to this report.

Jackie Roman may be reached at

This story was produced in collaboration with CivicStory as part of the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting project.

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