Houlihan/Sid Fay Field Cell Tower Proposal

Introduction from Mayor Brindle: February 24, 2021

I want to bring your attention to a proposal that was discussed by Code Review and Town Property Committee Chair Mark Parmelee at last night’s Council conference session that is being  considered in response to a request we recently received from a wireless provider. 

On February, 5th 2021, the Town received a letter from AT&T expressing (again) its interest in installing a cell tower near the Houlihan/Sid Fay fields.  

We are taking this request seriously based on a number of factors but primarily because of our need to address the long-standing parking and pedestrian safety issues at Houlihan/Sid Fay field. This summary is to give you an overview of what is being considered before any decisions are made.

If you have taken your child to a sporting event at Sid Fay, you have surely experienced the lack of adequate parking, forcing cars to park along Rahway Ave and parents and athletes to walk on the side of this busy road to get to the entrance. You have probably noticed the lack of a bathroom facility, and the unfortunate lack of ADA compliance at the facility.  

We are considering an innovative solution to solve these issues at no cost to taxpayers. 

AT&T has cited a need to improve service in the south east section of town, specifically Lamberts Mill to Willow Grove Road and Clifton Street, inclusive of Tamaques and Jefferson Elementary Schools. These areas have been identified as having wireless service gaps, specifically in the interiors of homes and buildings. Additionally, boosting coverage in this area would improve the reliability of our emergency response network for our first responders.

The specific cell tower location that would be proposed is adjacent to the far side of the Houlihan/Sid Fay parking lot, abutting the railroad tracks and near the PSE&G substation on the Clark side of the tracks. In return for allowing a party to install a cell tower, the Town would require the provider to pay for the proposed Houlihan/Sid Fay improvements recommended in the Strategic Parks Plan, which includes a new parking lot with a potential of up to 77 additional parking spots, an enhanced entrance/exit, installation of bathrooms, and coverage of the costs to make the facility fully ADA compliant.  

The concession arrangement would then also require that, after a grace period commensurate with the cost of the improvements installed, the wireless provider would also pay the Town an annual lease payment at a rate to be negotiated for the remainder of the long-term lease period. 

Before taking any steps, we plan to first bring on a consultant, at no cost, to advise the Town and fully evaluate the wireless provider interest and to aid in negotiating a strong deal for Westfield that addresses the public’s input if we decide to move forward. 

Please keep in mind that if we don’t approve this location, the providers have the option to go to an alternate site on private property, either in Westfield or directly across the tracks in Clark (as occurred in 2013 at the area of Terminal and Central Avenues). This would improve the coverage BUT eliminate Westfield from being able to reap any of the investment or revenue benefits. I refer to it as the “Garwood ShopRite” scenario in which we didn’t allow the store to be located in Westfield due to traffic concerns, so it was moved mere feet over the border into Garwood. We got stuck with the traffic and reaped no tax benefit. 

At the recommendation of the Code Review and Property Committee, the Town will issue an RFP to bring on a consultant, at no cost, to advise the Council on negotiations with interested wireless providers. After work with the consultant is sufficiently advanced, the Council will determine whether or not to issue an RFP to cellular service providers. Once provider responses are received, the public will be alerted and asked for input, all of which will be evaluated in the decision on whether or not to move forward. 

Rest assured that no contract will be awarded unless it is recommended by the consultant, passes muster with our Town governing body, and adequately addresses questions or concerns from neighbors, parents and the sports leagues. 

We understand there are many sensitivities when it comes to cell towers, however it would be best to act proactively to ensure that we maximize the benefit to Westfield taxpayers AND maintain controls in the process, knowing that a cell tower in that vicinity may be inevitable. In this case, we have the opportunity to resolve a long standing safety issue at Houlihan/Sid Fay field and additionally reap the benefit of having someone else cover the costs. 

Our desire to receive community feedback is sincere. We would like your input to help assess whether we should take this opportunity to generate a community benefit from installing a cell tower. Some initial FAQs can be found on the Town website.

We will be sure to keep you updated as information becomes available.