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Chester County Press

Expert says cellular communications tower is needed in New Garden

02/13/2018 12:30PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

Before an overflow audience at the New Garden Township Zoning Hearing Board's Feb. 8 preliminary conditional hearing, Archie Dickson, a radio frequency engineer with T-Mobile, gave a more than two-hour testimony that supported the need for a proposed cellular communications tower on an 11.8-acre farm at 1511 Yeatmans Station Road in Landenberg.

Arthur Santoro, a retired Delaware State trooper, has owned the property since 1980.

Christopher H. Schubert of Riley, Riper, Hollin & Colagreco and the attorney representing Eco-Sites, LLC – a Durham, N.C.-based supplier of wireless and infrastructure solutions who is applying for the construction of the tower – elicited facts and figures from Dickson that spelled out that the area around the White Clay Creek Preserve does not have reliable cell phone coverage.

Referring to a test drive analysis he performed in the area last December, and then to the center of an overhead map of New Garden Township that showed various degrees of cell phone coverage strength, Dickson pointed to a pale pink area on the dark red map, and identified it as a service area that lacked radio signal capacity.

“None of these other existing cell towers [indicated on the map] can cover that blank spot,” he said. “We cannot place a new cell tower somewhere else to cover that blank spot. The cell tower needs to go where the coverage deficiency is.”

Dickson then pointed to several areas on the map where attempted cell phone calls prematurely failed. “We couldn't hear anything [during the test analysis]. The system completely failed to work in the area of the White Clay Creek Preserve,” he said.

The hearing, moderated by township solicitor Winifred Sebastian, Esq., and attended by members of the township's Zoning Hearing Board, was also attended by Marc D. Jonas, Esq., of the law firm of Eastburn and Gray, PC, who represented parties who are opposing the installation of the tower at the site; and attorneys representing London Britain Township and New Garden Township.

The proposed 125-foot-high telecommunications tower would be constructed on the site of the former Little Stenning Farm. Built of galvanized steel, the tower will be of a monopine design similar to a pine tree. Schubert said that Santoro would also accept a different type of structure, such as a windmill-style design, on his property.

In his testimony, Dickson said that the evidence supporting the construction of a cellular tower is being dictated by the changing ways people use phones.

“People are using fixed line telephones less and less,” he said. “We know that more and more are using mobile phones for their house connections and their emergency calls, so that in itself means that the demand for network services is always on the increase.

“People are using their phones for internet connections, for data, for sending high-definition video, for looking at their friends on Facebook. All of this takes a lot more resources.”

Before Dickson, Schubert called Santoro as his first witness, who said that Eco-Sites, Inc., approached him about two years ago with the proposal to install a tower on his property. He verified to Schubert that he entered a lease agreement with the company on Aug. 18, 2016.

Santoro was then questioned by Jonas about the use of his property, and whether or not Santoro receives any income from it. Santoro said that he rents out and maintains eight horse stalls, as well as an apartment on his property that is occasionally used by horse owners.

Jonas then asked Santoro to refer to the lease agreement he signed with Eco-Sites, Inc., and asked him to identify the “blacked-out” information on the document. Santoro replied that it was likely the final compensation he would receive from Eco-Sites, Inc., but when asked by Jonas to provide the amount of compensation, Santoro did not provide a figure.

“I don't think that's anybody's business right now,” he told Jonas.

From the time the proposal first surfaced in the township more than a year ago, the idea of a cell tower standing at the site has drawn both praise and criticism. The installation of a cellular communications tower would be a welcome upgrade for many in the community, who feel that they live in a cell phone-free zone. As has been discussed at previous conditional use hearings, a new tower would be able to accommodate the rise of 5G technology and increase download speeds up to ten times faster than 4G technology.

On the other side of the issue, several residents have expressed concern that the planned placement of the tower would obstruct their views of the adjacent White Clay Creek Preserve, negatively affect the property values of their homes, and destroy the environmental aesthetic of the area.

While the application is still being considered by the Zoning Hearing Board, it will need to go through the conditional use process after the preliminary hearing process has been completed. The township's Board of Supervisors will then serve witness at the conditional use hearing, and render a final decision.

A continuation of the hearing has been scheduled for March 1, beginning at 7 p.m. at the township building. Schubert told Sebastian that he has about an hour's worth of testimony remaining for Dickson, and more than one dozen individuals who were given official party status to the hearing, are also expected to testify.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].