Cellular tower hearing yields supporting evidence, cross-examination
● By Richard Gaw
Before the New Garden Township Zoning Hearing Board and more than 50 concerned residents on March 1, the year-long and often contentious conversation about a proposed 125-foot-high telecommunications tower in Landenberg tacked on three more hours, during a preliminary conditional use hearing that yielded both supporting evidence and occasional thorniness.
The hearing served as the follow-up to a two-hour Feb. 8 preliminary conditional hearing concerning the application of Eco-Sites, LLC – a Durham, N.C.-based supplier of wireless and infrastructure solutions – to construct a telecommunications tower on an 11.8-acre farm at 1511 Yeatmans Station Road, commonly known as Little Stenning Farm, that has been owned by Arthur Santoro, a retired Delaware State trooper, since 1980. If it is built, the tower would be constructed of galvanized steel, the tower will be of a monopine design, similar to the look a pine tree, or perhaps resemble a windmill-style design.
During the hearing – which was moderated by township solicitor Winifred Sebastian, Esq., and attended by Zoning Hearing Board members – radio frequency engineer Archie Dickson echoed his comments of Feb. 8 by saying that a test drive analysis he performed last December in the vicinity of the Santoro property revealed that the area does not provide reliable cell phone coverage. In continued testimony to Eco-Sites attorney Christopher H. Schubert of Riley, Riper, Hollin & Colagreco, Dickson said that the best solution would be to constrict a cell tower on the Santoro property.
In support of his argument, Schubert introduced locations that had been introduced as possible viable alternative sites for a telecommunications tower located in Avondale, Landenberg and Hockessin, from 2007 to 2010. Referring to a three-mile-wide pale pink circle drawn on a coverage map of New Garden Township that indicated the results of his cell phone analysis of the area, Dickson told Schubert that he looked at each of these “candidate” sites, but that all of them are located too far away from where a cell tower is needed.
Schubert then asked Dickson if other towers that are located in the vicinity of the "search ring" area, which measure 40-, 60- and 80-feet high, would be sufficient to improve cell phone coverage in the area. Dickson said that they would not be tall enough – and too far away – to be effective.
“A cell tower needs to be close to where the service is required, so we cannot provide service from a tower that's two or three miles away,” Dickson said.
In comparison, Dickson said a 150-foot-high tower could “stretch out” to an additional half-mile of cell phone coverage, but there are considerations for not choosing that height, he said.
“There is a height limit that we don't want really want to go above,” he said. “If the antenna is too high, that can cause problems, because the cell tower can be visible from too far away, and somebody from five miles away can connect through the tower if it's too high, and (their) call may not succeed in handing over through the network if it's too far away.
“I would be satisfied to get a height of 120 feet at the Santoro property,” Dickson said.
Marc D. Jonas, Esq. of the law firm of Eastburn and Gray, PC and the attorney for the parties who are opposing the installation of the tower at the site, conducted his two-hour cross-examination of Dickson by questioning the credibility of his testimony and his role as a consultant.
Jonas began by questioning Dickson's ability to offer testimony about the reports conducted of the “candidate” sites previously mentioned in the hearing, given that they were conducted long before Dickson became involved with the proposed cell tower.
He then asked Dickson – who has been generally referred to as a radio frequency engineer with T-Mobile during these hearings – who he is employed by.
“Mr. Dickson, when you get a paycheck, what company pays you?” Jonas asked.
“That's none of your Godamn business,” Dickson replied.
“What company are you employed by?” Jonas asked.
“I am deployed by T-Mobile to go and find site locations and fill in coverage gaps,” Dickson said.
“Do you have a presence on LinkedIn?” Jonas asked.
“If I do, I am not telling you my ID,” Dickson said.
“You can save your stand-up comedy for another night if you would, Mr. Dickson,” Jonas replied. “Do you have a presence on LinkedIn?”
“Yes, I do,” Dickson said.
“So your employer is not T-Mobile,” Jonas said. “You are employed by Telecom Technology Services, Inc. Is that be correct?”
“And deployed by T-Mobile, but my paycheck is done by TTS,” Dickson said. “I never said T-Mobile employed me. I said that T-Mobile deployed me.”
Jonas continued to peck away at Dickson's credibility by asking him to recall the drive tests he performed last December to determine the strength of cell phone coverage in the area. Dickson said he conducted the drive test twice and has done more testing on his own, through the neighborhoods in New Garden and London Britain townships.
“Do you know where Nivin Road is?” Jonas asked Dickson, who identified it as one of the properties that is immediately adjacent to the Santoro property.
“Did you drive that road?” Jonas asked.
“I must have done,” Dickson replied.
“Was that part of your road test?” Jonas asked.
“I've driven around with a test phone, watching calls succeeding and not succeeding,” Dickson said.
“It's really important that you focus on the question,” Jonas said. “Was Nivin Road part of your drive test?”
“I don't know,” Dickson said.
Following a ten-minute recess, Jonas continued his cross-examination of Dickson for another hour, making reference to site maps and exhibits that were introduced to the testimony. He then returned his focus to the drive test that Dickson conducted last December, and asked him to identify the origin of the phones and any other technology used for the testing. He then asked if there was any chance that the drive tests could be affected by faulty equipment.
“Yes,” Dickson replied.
After the preliminary use hearing period has concluded, the Eco-Sites application will need to go through the conditional use hearing process and then go before the township's Board of Supervisors, who will serve witness at the conditional use hearing, and render a final decision.
A continuation of the preliminary use hearing has been scheduled for March 26, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the township building, where more than one dozen individuals who were given official party status to the hearing are expected to testify before the Zoning Hearing Board.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.