New Garden zoning board hears latest testimony at cell tower preliminary hearing
● By Richard Gaw
Now ten months into its preliminary conditional hearing, the application of Eco-Sites, LLC, a Durham, N.C.-based supplier of wireless and infrastructure systems, to construct and operate a cellular communications tower on the property of Arthur and Renee Santoro at 1511 Yeatmans Station Road in Landenberg, tacked an additional three hours onto its life last week, when local residents who live in the vicinity of the Santoro property cross-examined design engineer Michael Cleary of Maser Consulting of Mt. Laurel, N.J. on Oct. 2 at the New Garden Township Building.
The hearing, held before the township's Zoning Hearing Board and moderated by township solicitor Winifred Sebastian, Esq., served as a continuation of the Aug. 6 hearing and overlapped generously in content with two additional hearings held on Feb. 8 and March 1. The on-going point of contention on the company's application is being heard from local residents, who are opposed to the cell tower being built near their properties along Watson Mill Road and Nivin Lane – a part of Landenberg that the company has attempted to prove, through testing, is largely devoid of personal wireless service for local users.
In his opening remarks, Christoper H. Schubert of Riley, Riper, Hollin & Collagreco and the attorney representing Eco-Sites, introduced two new stipulations into the proceedings. They stated that John Kuhn, a resident of Nivin Lane and represented by attorney Marc D. Jonas of the law firm of Eastburn and Gray, PC, is supportive of the revised plan that moves the location of the proposed tower from its original location near a riding ring on the Santoro property, commonly known as Little Stenning Farm, to an area between 240-250 feet to the east on the property, near a small barn.
Further, Schubert stated that Kuhn also agreed to the stipulation in the amended plan that would scratch the original pine tree design of the tower, in favor of being redesigned to resemble a barn silo – known as a stealth silo structure – at a height of 125 feet, that would contain the cell tower and include protective fencing, landscaping and access to Yeatmans Station Road. The revised site plan was approved in July.
After Jonas confirmed that the actions introduced by Schubert were accurate, the Zoning Hearing Board accepted the stipulations. Later during the hearing, Santoro testified in support of the revised plan.
Picking up where the Aug. 6 hearing left off, Cleary continued to be cross-examined by individuals who were given official party status. For close to two-and-a-half hours, eight residents asked Cleary questions that brought into question the accuracy of the proposed design of the tower, the research done by Maser Consulting, the photographs introduced into the record, and other issues.
In response to a question by Deborah Vickery about which parties will make the final decisions on the construction of the tower if permission is granted, Cleary said that all decisions would be made by the applicant and the design engineer.
Referring to the photographic simulations of the silo, taken in Photoshop that depict the appearance of a stealth silo tower seen from various locations in its vicinity, Cleary said that they were taken by two employees of Maser Consulting on Feb. 27, 2018, who used a six-foot-wide floating balloon as a measuring device, that was launched and photographed at 125 feet, the height of the proposed tower. The first photographs were taken at 9:55 a.m., and the last were taken between 12:30 p.m. and 12:40 p.m., said Cleary, who told Schubert that the wind conditions on the day of testing were registered between zero and eight miles per hour – an acceptable range of wind speed to conduct such a test, he said.
Cleary told Vickery that the photos are accurate to within 25 or 50 feet. Vickery then asked if Cleary was aware if the numbers conflict with the distances entered into the hearing by Schubert during an earlier hearing. Schubert objected to the question, and it was sustained by Sebastian.
Throughout the remainder of his cross-examination, Cleary responded to questions that continued to hammer away at the accuracy of the balloon testing, the validity of the facsimile photographs, and raised other potential issues.
While a few of her questions were objected to by Schubert and sustained by Sebastian, Teal Rickerman asked Cleary to respond to a series of issues. She asked Cleary if he was aware that the proposed area for the location of the tower is Lenape Indian territory, and whether or not there is a plan in place, in case soil testing done in the vicinity of the proposed tower reveals the presence of any Native American artifacts.
Cleary said that he was not aware that the area was Lenape grounds, and that soil testing is to be completed, in order to prepare a foundation design for the structure. He told Rickerman that he has served as an engineer on sites where artifacts have been discovered, but did not know what the process is when these are found on a construction site.
“That's not our firm's responsibility,” Cleary said. “It's a different consulting firm that would do that typical work, and in cases where it's come up, it's been identified by another firm that the carrier or the client hires, and they let us know which areas contain what, and what the process entails before construction can or can't be done.”
She then asked Cleary his opinion, as an engineer, on whether the tower should be constructed of fiberglass or concrete. “Either one is acceptable from an engineering standpoint, but it depends on what the client's use for it would be,” he said, telling Rickerman that concrete is less expensive than fiberglass, but that fiberglass is a better option for increased radio frequency.
In responding to Rickerman's question about the perceived inaccuracy of the facsimile photographs depicting the tower from various locations, Cleary said that it was not his intention to mislead anyone, and that the reason why the photos could be perceived as inaccurate could be due to what he called a “forced perspective.”
In later testimony to Schubert, Cleary said that the phrase is defined as “the idea that objects that are closer to the viewer appear to be larger, with respect to optics that are farther away.”
After Cleary answered additional questions from William Zimmerman and Elizabeth Burch about the accuracy of balloon testing, protective fencing and the use of generators at the tower, the hearing received a brief recess, after which Cleary rejected the idea of constructing the proposed tower near the 140-foot tall police tower that is located on Sharpless Road in the White Clay Preserve. Cleary told Schubert that he has visited the police tower.
“Based on your physical observations of that tower, which are in conjunction with your observations and review of photographs, as well as the construction drawings of that tower that have been offered in evidence, is there is anything about your testimony that would change your opinion in regard to whether or not that tower would be viable as it is right now, for the installation of a T-Mobile antenna or from any other wireless provider, from an engineering standpoint?” Schubert asked Cleary.
“No, my opinion would not change,” Cleary said. It's a potential problem of access, he said, that would require the construction of a new road to support the transport of construction vehicles and provide access to main roads. The police tower is also located on a hill in the preserve, and a telecommunications facility needs to be built on a fairly flat compound, Cleary said, which would require extensive grading.
Jonas offered no cross-examination of Cleary.
An Aug. 28 email from Thomas Este, Esq., solicitor for London Britain Township was also introduced into the record, in which Estes stated that the township will withdraw from the remainder of the hearing.
The preliminary conditional hearing will be continued on Oct. 16 at the New Garden Township Building, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.