Attorney's cell tower presentation met with continued opposition
08/29/2017 12:28PM ● Published by Richard Gaw
It began with a simple invitation and subsequently, a power point presentation.
It ended as a scuffle of opposition, brought to light by a conglomeration of locals intent on finding an alternate location for a proposed 125-foot-high telecommunications facility that would, if built, improve cell phone service in a pocket of Landenberg that needs it.
Scheduled and moderated by attorney Christopher H. Schubert of Riley, Riper, Hollin & Colagreco at the New Garden Township building on Aug. 22, the meeting was intended to serve as question-and-answer session between representatives from Eco-Site, Inc. and T-Mobile, and more than 60 residents, most of whom are concerned that Eco-Site's proposal to place a cell tower on the Santoro property at 1511 Yeatman Station Road in Landenberg would dramatically alter the landscape near their homes and lower the value of their homes.
In an Aug. 14 letter to township residents, Schubert reiterated the backstory of a proposal that has caused a log jam of commentary on social media -- both for and against -- ever since the idea to develop a cell tower got its first township conditional use hearing on April 17. Built of galvanized steel, the proposed tower will be of a monopine design -- a monopole disguised as a pine tree -- and, in addition to its base height, the tower will also include a five-foot high lightning rod at its top, and will be approximately the same height as many trees that border these properties.
In his letter and during his presentation, Schubert, the attorney for Eco-Site, Inc., referenced a "balloon test" that was conducted on the Santoro property on July 10, that collected photographs that were used in the making of photo simulations that gave residents a visual idea of where the proposed tower would be seen from different locations in the vicinity. Before the presentation began at 6:30 p.m., several residents gathered at the front of the meeting room to gaze at the simulations, which also included alternate designs for the structure, including a treepole, windmill and a silo.
Because he believes that the application "will not be over any time soon," Schubert said that another balloon test, reflecting a change in sight lines due to change in foliage, could be done in the fall.
"We have to put our best foot forward in trying to find the optimal location for this facility, in terms of not only location on the property, but in terms of design," Schubert. "One of the issues is approval by the [New Garden Township Board of] supervisors, and we're going to have to establish with them that we've gone through that exercise. I would agree that having further photo simulations done when the leaves are off the trees will work."
Referencing an overhead map of New Garden Township, Schubert pointed to an egg-shaped oval that encompassed an area south of Somerset Lake, north of the White Clay Creek State Park and just to the west of the Delaware state line. He identified the vicinity as being in need of increased telecommunications coverage. The Santoro property works best, he said, because it's located in the center of the search area.
"This is an area that struggles with coverage and for good reason," Schubert began. "It's a rural area that adjoins White Clay Creek Park, is home to some very nice homes and also offers some open space areas. Because of those reasons, it's a very tough area to find some proper sighting with regard to any telecommunications installation.
"What Eco-Site is proposing to do is find the best possible location for the property, that would minimize the impact and the aestheitcs of this facility, which is very difficult because of [the farm's] location and also the fact that these facilities need to be placed above the trees in order to operate properly and connect up with joining sites."
Schubert told the audience that several service providers would tap into the tower.
"This happens to be an area where there are no towers within a mile-and-a-half and two miles, which is critical in terms of coverage, especially when you're talking about topography and a lot of tree cover," he said. "That makes wireless coverage very difficult."
While a telecommunications upgrade in the area will accommodate the rise of 5G technology and increase download speeds up to ten times faster than 4G technology, Schubert called cell towers "the necessary evil" that accompanies increased access to modern telecommunications.
"The initial reaction with regard to any types of facilities that are proposed in areas that are not used to seeing such facilities is that no one wants to see anything of this kind," he said. "I like to compare it to sausage. Most people enjoy sausage but you never want to see how it's made. Wireless service is very similar to that. Everyone enjoys the technology of the cell phones and the connectivity that cell phones provide, but no one likes to see towers that provide the service."
Schubert's words served as prophetic, because as his presentation continued, it was gradually met with a steady stream of comments from those in the audience, to the degree that Schubert's presentation was then halted. The remainder of the meeting became an hour-long dialogue of opposition, directed at both Schubert and his colleagues.
"What's the cost benefit of this?" asked one audience member. "How many thousands of people are going to benefit from this tower? Where is that data? I don't think anyone has done their homework. You didn't show me where the Stenning Farm fits within the plot, and you didn't tell me, 'This is going to cost X dollars.' I think more people are going to be hurt than benefited."
The audience member then asked Schubert, "Do you want one of these in your back yard?"
"Actually, I would love one of these," Schubert answered. "I am also untethered and I use my cell phone for connection, and it's very important for me to have connectivity."
Another member disputed the need for Eco-Site to pursue the Santoro property as the site for the cell tower.
"Why are we stuck on this piece of property in a residential area, when even New Garden Township has realized that we need to change our laws -- given that you guys snuck in under the wire, and are allowed to consider a residential piece of property?" she said. "If Eco-Site is so interested in the greater good, let's back off and put the tower in a commercial area, away from this pristine area."
Schubert said that the reason the Santoro property was chosen was largely due to the area being zoned almost entirely residential. He said that Eco-Site would be open to suggestions of other sites in the area, where the tower could be placed.
One member of the audience suggested that a cell tower of this kind would be obsolete, given the growth of alternative telecommunications technology and device-to-device communication. More and more, mobile phones are becoming part of the transmission network, resulting in a decrease in dropped calls, less interference and a fewer "black spots" – areas with patchy signals.
"Where is the demand coming from?" one audience member asked. "I don't think people here are demanding better cell service badly enough to want this thing in their neighborhood."
Based on the results of a survey recently sent out to 1,200 residents Schubert said that of the 15 percent that returned the survey, about 60 percent deemed increased cell phone service to be "very important" or "important." The remaining 40 percent of survey responses, he said, were not in favor of the cell tower.
"A lot of times we will find people who are highly motivated to [preserve] aesthetics and take the energy to come out and voice their objection to a proposed facility," he said. "A lot of other times, we will see people who take a more passive stance, who would like to see the technology put in place and have better connectivity and access to 5G, but they're not as willing to come out."
The road to approval of the cell tower has, thus far, been a long and winding one, dotted with just one conditional use hearing before the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors, which was then followed by several postponed hearings. While the steps to approval are slow and plodding, the expression of public opinion in the township has been swift and voracious. On one side, groups like the Concerned Citizens of Landenberg have expressed their desire to have Eco-Sites explore potential alternate sites for the proposed cell tower -- posting signage throughout the township and showing their opposition with signage before the Aug. 24 meeting.
On the other side, the Facebook page "Landenberg (You Can't Get There From Here)" has served as a voice for those in favor of putting up a cell tower. In the end, Schubert said that getting the OK to build the tower comes down to satisfying the conditions of approval spelled out by the supervisors.
The road to approval has been met with one more roadblock. The next conditional use hearing before the township's supervisors, scheduled for Aug. 28, was postponed on Aug. 25.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.