Since 1981, when the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) went into effect, the construction of tall structures has been discouraged throughout much of the Pinelands Area. These regulatory limitations, which incorporated a 35-foot height limit, were intended to prevent the littering of the Pinelands skyline with structures that significantly detract from the scenic qualities which federal and state Pinelands legislation called upon the Pinelands Commission to protect. There were, of course, exceptions to this requirement: certain structures were allowed to exceed 35 feet in height; and no restrictions were placed on height within the two most development-oriented Pinelands land management areas - Regional Growth Areas and Pinelands Towns.
However, in 1994, as the Pinelands Commission was nearing the end of its second full review of the CMP, representatives of the cellular telephone industry requested that the Commission take note of the growing need for portable telephone communications and the associated need for the placement of antennas higher than 35 feet in all parts of the Pinelands Area. To accommodate what it felt was a legitimate need, the Pinelands Commission in 1995 amended the CMP to permit local communications facilities to exceed the 35-foot height limit if a comprehensive plan for the entire Pinelands is first prepared and approved by the Pinelands Commission. The regulations recognized that: local communications systems rely on a network of facilities to receive and transmit radio signals; the location of each cell within this network has an effect on the location of other cells; and a well designed and integrated network can avoid the proliferation of towers throughout the entire Pinelands Area, and, most importantly, in its most conservation-oriented areas. Once a comprehensive plan is approved, the regulations anticipate that site specific siting decisions will be made and that individual development applications will be submitted and evaluated against a series of site specific development standards. These regulations were adopted by the Commission in June 1995 and went into effect on August 21, 1995.
The adopted regulations required providers of "the same type of service" to jointly submit a comprehensive plan, primarily to ensure that the least number of facilities is built in the Pinelands overall. Members of the cellular industry (comprising Verizon [formerly Bell Atlantic Mobile], Cingular [formerly Comcast], and Nextel) responded by submitting a regional plan (generally referred to as the Cellular Plan) that was approved by the Commission in September, 1998. Almost immediately thereafter, representatives of the PCS industry (including Sprint Spectrum and T-Mobile [formerly Omnipoint]) made inquiries of the Commission regarding the procedures and components involved in an acceptable plan for their service. The Commission staff described the process and the necessary information for a complete plan and indicated that the PCS plan would need to incorporate and expand upon the siting array presented in the approved cellular plan (i.e., the PCS plan would effectively serve to amend the cellular plan). The PCS plan was approved by the Commission in January, 2000. In 2003, AT&T submitted an amendment to the Cellular and PCS Plans because its communications system functions at both the cellular and PCS frequencies. The AT&T amendment was approved by the Commission in December, 2003.