Monopole would be unsightly in historic area, residents say

By Lynn R. Parks

A demonstration to show what a proposed cell telephone transmission tower would look like did nothing to change the mind of Holly Conaway, who is fighting Cingular and its placement of the tower. "In fact, it absolutely confirmed the idea I had," she said. Cingular wants to put the 170-foot "monopole" near Woodland Ferry Road at Deer Lane. The site is close to the housing development Patty Cannon Estates and just south of the historic Woodland Ferry. The proposed tower site is owned by Byard Layton, Laurel. Last Wednesday, Cingular put up a 170-foot crane to show residents what the tower would look like. "From time to time, we do simulations such as a crane test so the community can get a visual picture of the height of a proposed cell site," said Ellen Webner, spokeswoman for Cingular. For Conaway, who lives near Patty Estates on property that has been in the Conaway family for more than two centuries, that "visual picture" was ugly. "From Patty Cannon Estates, the tower is just in your face, big as life," Conaway said. "And for people driving down River Road, it is right there." "It's a monster," said Jacqueline Henderson, who has lived in Patty Cannon Estates for three years. "If it had been there three years ago, I would not have bought a home in this community. And if it goes up, I will probably move, if I can sell my house." Henderson believes that if the tower goes up, property values in the development will go down. "It towers over the tree line, and it's going to have lights," she said. "It took me six months to find this house. Every other place that I looked at, anything could go up right next to it. Here, we have a historic district on the left and a wildlife preserve across the road. I thought that there was no chance that anything like this would happen here." George Jacobs, who lives in Patty Cannon Estates, said that there are several other sites that would be more appropriate for the tower. State Sen. Robert Venables (D - Laurel) agrees. Venables obtained permission from the state's Fish and Wildlife Division for the tower to be put on a 17-acre parcel of state-owned land on Ellis Mill Road, about 1/2 mile from the proposed site in a more rural area and out of view from Woodland. "I thought, for everybody's sake, that would be a better location," he said. "Woodland is really a jewel and it is really amazing that we have been able to keep it the way it is for so long." Jacobs also challenged Cingular's contention that the tower is needed to provide cell phone service to the area. "We have no problem with reception here," he said. Webner said that the monopole would hold antennas that would provide Cingular cell phone coverage for a 3-mile radius. She said that plans call for the monopole to be disguised to look like part of the surrounding forest. "The pole will be camouflaged in such a way with branches and leaves at the top to resemble a tree," she said. Area residents said that they have been told that the branches would start at about 75 feet and go up to the peak.

Trees in the area are about 45 feet tall, meaning that branches would start at about 30 feet higher than neighboring trees. The pole would tower more than 130 feet above the rest of the forest. "It would be like a freak show," said Conaway. "People would come from miles around just to see it." "If the tower has to be here, I'd rather see just a plain pole," said Jacobs. He said that a 130-foot tower located on Delaware 12 a couple miles west of Felton and fitted with the tree camouflage is "ridiculous." "It really looks out of place," he added. In March, the Sussex County Board of Adjustment voted to table a decision on the tower pending a study of how the monopole would affect the Woodland Ferry and Cannon Hall in Woodland, both of which are part of the National Register of Historic Places. Such a study, which was to be done by Cingular, is required by the federal government whenever proposed construction involving federal funds could impact a site on the register. Tim Slavin is director of the state's Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, which oversees such studies. He said Tuesday that his office had received the study from Cingular, and that the study had found that there would be no adverse effects from erection of the monopole. But the office had several questions for Cingular to answer before the office could make a recommendation to the county, he added. Among the information Slavin's office requested are details about alternative locations for the tower and whether Cingular considered them. It also directed Cingular to conduct the recent crane test, to determine if the tree disguise is viable, to notify native American tribes of the plans for a tower, to clarify how it notified the public of those plans as well as of the required study on effects on historic areas, and to notify local historical societies. Slavin expected to receive Cingular's answers sometime next week. He could not predict how soon his office's recommendation will be made. Dan Costello, vice president for downstate outreach with Preservation Delaware, a state-wide, private, not-for-profit association dedicated to promoting historic preservation in Delaware, agrees with the residents of the area that the site is inappropriate for a cell tower. "Woodland Ferry is a significant historic and cultural resource that has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places," he said. "Just as Lewes is a most significant physical reminder of Delaware's maritime history, so Woodland Ferry and its surrounding countryside are significant physical reminders of Delaware's rural and agricultural past. It is also a significant place for the Nanticoke Indians. The river has been crossed at Woodland since at least the very early 1700s. As a significant historic place, Woodland Ferry deserves to be protected from the visual intrusion of a...cell tower. "Historic preservation is not about erasing man's foot prints from the earth," he added. "It's about protecting and enhancing significant manifestations of man's activities, and Woodland Ferry needs to be preserved, in as pristine a way as possible, so that it can be appreciated and enjoyed for future generations." "This is still a pristine area," said Christine Darby, who lives near Woodland and who opposes the tower. "There are precious few unspoiled areas left and we need to preserve as many of them as we can. We've got to keep some open green space where people can breathe."

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