Protecting the 'Jewel in a Crown'
They have joined together for a cause.
They have formed a group and given it a name.
They have made a sign, and posted it throughout the community.
They have created a website.
They have gathered over 100 petitions.
During the late afternoon of June 5, nine members of the newly-formed Concerned Citizens of Landenberg sat around the dining room table in Teal Rickerman's home on Watson Mill Road, sharing a single motivation: To save a pristine portion of their hometown from the planned construction of a 130-foot cellular communications tower 1511 Yeatmans Station Road – on the site of the Little Stenning Farm – by Eco-Sites, LLC, a Durham, N.C.-based supplier of wireless and infrastructure solutions. The property is owned by Anthony J. Santoro and Renee L. Santoro, and is located within the R-1 Residential Low Density Zoning District.
The proposed tower would be built of galvanized steel, and will be of a monopine design -- a monopole disguised as a pine tree. In addition to its base height of 125 feet, the tower will include a five-foot high lightning rod at its top, and will be approximately the same height as many trees that border these properties. If built, the tower will be placed just to the north of a horse riding rink, and will be clearly visible from nearly every home in the Nivin Lane-Watson Mill Road vicinity.
Reactions at the meeting ranged from concern to outrage.
“I am devastated by this,” said Julie Rickerman, whose home backs up to the farm where the cell tower would be built.
“It's such a beautiful area, and this would become the tallest structure in New Garden Township by about 30 feet, and you're going to put it smack dab in the middle of a field?” said Jerry Green.
“It doesn't meet the structure of what the preserve is about, and to have a tower visible from the preserve or outside of it, is just not fitting,” said John Starzman. “Our property values are going to go down, and [New Garden Township] is going to have to make up the money, somehow, perhaps by raising taxes.”
The voices heard at the meeting were far from the only ones heard recently. Public opposition to the planned cell tower was first heard at a formal conditional use hearing at the New Garden Board of Supervisors meeting on April 17, and as the township gears up for a follow-up hearing on June 19, opposition to the planned cell tower has intensified.
Last month, the group solicited the input and evaluation of Patterson Schwartz Real Estate to determine what effect the Eco-Sites cell tower would have on the property values of homes in its proposed vicinity. The word from Patterson Schwartz sales manager and real estate broker Tim Carter was not good. In a letter to members, Carter wrote that the location of the tower, within the R1, Residential Low Density Zoning District, “would be uniquely detrimental to neighboring home values.”
“Homes near the [White Clay Creek] Preserve derive and enjoy their value from rural surroundings without commercial intrusion and endless views of pristine woodlands,” Carter wrote. “At 130 feet high, the proposed cell tower would be an aesthetic disaster for the neighbors.”
The news got worse. Carter wrote that for homes that are near a cell tower, property values could decrease as much as 20 percent, based on studies published by the National Association of Realtors.
“Although it's true that some studies conclude to the contrary, I believe your rural, low-density neighborhood will not only experience a negative visual impact, but buyers may be concerned by the perceived health risks of living so close to a cell tower,” he wrote. “In my opinion, there are other geographic locations in the Landenberg area that would less negatively impact residential property values.”
The potential hazard of the cell tower, the group believes, is not just an economic one. It could have a dangerous effect on the local environment, as spelled out in its new website – www.movetower.com -- which has already gathered more than 100 signatures from concerned neighbors.
“The White Clay Creek Preserve possesses outstanding scenic, wildlife, recreational, and cultural value," the website's statement reads. “It is home to over 90 species of birds and provides habitat to over 100 varieties of migratory birds, including American Bald Eagles; birds of conservation concern, and rare plants, including three endangered, one threatened, and two rare plant species.
“Those birds, and accordingly, the habitat, would be at risk if the tower is built in the proposed location. Studies show that communication towers negatively impact the health of birds and wildlife, not only those living in the vicinity, but also those that migrate through the area. Furthermore, Congress has designated White Clay Creek as a National Wild and Scenic River.
“It is imperative that the Creek be preserved for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations to come.”
At this point, there is speculation that the decision to approve or reject Eco-Sites' application may not be reached after the follow-up hearing on June 19, but either way, the fate of the cell tower will ultimately come down to the vote of the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors. On its website, the Concerned Citizens of Landenberg encourage the board to “consider using an alternative location and alternative technologies that would better serve the needs of all members of our community to provide safe mobile phone coverage without adverse environmental and economic impacts to our citizens.”
A well-thumbed sentiment in the community has given Landenberg poor marks for its current cellular reception, and that a cell tower such as what is being proposed would greatly alleviate the problem. However, Nivin Lane resident John Kuhn – who works in the telecommunications industry and has retained an attorney to represent him – is not buying the argument.
“There are going to be so many solutions in the very near future, that it makes no sense to hurry this thing through when technology is moving at the pace that it is,” he said.” There is new technology coming out through the cable infrastructure – and through Comcast in particular – where they're offering phone service for $45 a month if you are a subscriber for Comcast and have internet capability.”
Those in opposition to the proposed construction of the cell tower hold an ace in the hole that is torn directly from the township ordinances. Under Chapter 200, Article XXII, the township has set parameters for natural resource protection in order to “protect the public health, safety and welfare by minimizing adverse environmental impacts,” which are intended to:
a) Define and delineate selected natural resources in the township and establish natural resource protection standards;
b) Conserve valuable natural resources within the township in accordance with the township's 2005 conservation plan; and
c) Ensure that greenway areas – as identified in the township's Greenways Plan and Phelps Property Plan of 2009 -- are protected as important natural features for the benefit of the public.
For several generations, the Rickerman name has been synonymous with the family's efforts to preserve Landenberg as a conservation mecca. Jonathan Rickerman spent part of his childhood helping out at the Little Stenning Farm. He would run around the hills and pastures, and remembers watching his family work extensively to keep the land as wild as possible to retain it as a habitat for animals. He watched his mother who, along with others, stood up to the DuPont Company in successfully opposing the company's interests in damming the river for profit. Her efforts led to the preservation of a river valley and the establishment of the White Clay Creek Preserve.
“Now we're going to have a proposed cell tower that [if built], will be prominent across a good portion of that whole broad valley, so that anywhere you live in the area, you will see that tower,” he said. “You have people who have spent their good money to live in this beautiful area, and now you're going to have this fake, hideous tree 20 to 50 feet above the woods, that will be seen over hilltops as far as you can see.”
At one point during the meeting, Dave Rickerman pointed to a map of the area on an iPad, and ran his index finger along a thick patch of green and stopped at the exact center of a pasture, indicating where the proposed tower would be located.
“You're talking about this whole view here being harmed by this ridiculous tower on the top of the hill, all the way down, and every home in nearby neighborhoods who are in sight of it,” he said. “It's a jewel in a crown that has not been mutilated and industrialized. There need to be some places that remain sacred.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org .