State opinion not what residents near Woodland were hoping for

By Lynn R. Parks

The state's Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs has issued its opinion on a proposed 175-foot cell phone tower near Woodland. And it's not what residents who are opposed to the tower were hoping for. "The proposed project will not have an adverse effect on [Woodland's] historic properties," the report says. The report, dated Nov. 9, was completed at the request of the county's Board of Adjustment. Construction of the tower has to be approved by the board. Cingular Wireless has proposed putting the tower near Woodland Ferry Road at Deer Lane, on the south side of the Nanticoke River. The proposed tower site is owned by Byard Layton, Laurel. The Board of Adjustment accepted the state's report at its Monday-night meeting. The discussion of the tower is on the agenda for the Dec. 18 meeting. 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, called the state's finding a "tragedy." "I regret that the [state] concurred in Cingular's self-serving decision that the proposed tower would have no adverse effect on historic properties there," he said. "From Preservation Delaware's point of view, extensive and compelling evidence was presented to support a finding that the tower should not be placed at that location." Holly Conaway, who lives across the Nanticoke River from Woodland, agreed with Costello, calling the findings by the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs "calloused." The division "chose to disregard" the federal guidelines regarding protection of historic properties, she added. The Woodland Ferry and Cannon Hall in Woodland are both on the National Register of Historic Places. "There is simply no guidance or applied logic that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the construction of a 175-foot tower, which would be clearly visible from the Woodland Ferry, Cannon Hall, the Nanticoke River and the approach to both the north and south ferry landings, would not create a potential adverse effect to the historic significance and future use of the area," Conaway said. "We put our best people on this," countered Tim Slavin, director of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs. "They are very talented and used detailed analysis to come up with the decision." Slavin said that it is his office's job to look only at how the tower will impact properties on the historic register. "A lot of the arguments people had were out of the parameter of our review," he said. "What this tower will look like from Patty Cannon Estates, or from the Conaway farm, is really not our concern." The state's report does not address whether the tower should have fake branches at the top. But Slavin said that he believes that Cingular Wireless' proposal to add the branches to the monopole in an effort to make it look like a tree would "minimize the visual impact of the tower as seen from Woodland." Trees in the area are about 45 feet tall; the pole would tower more than 130 feet above the rest of the forest.

"It will be a travesty if it gets built that way," said George Jacobs, a resident of Patty Cannon Estates near Woodland. A 130-foot tower on Delaware 12 a couple miles west of Felton is dressed up as a tree and "it looks ridiculous," Jacobs added. Adding fake branches will do nothing to diminish the ugliness of the tower, Costello with Preservation Delaware said. "Whether the tower looks like a pine tree of a fig leaf is of little consequence," he said. "The location is a very poor choice, one that could have been easily avoided had Cingular sought the views of citizens who care about Sussex County's historic and cultural patrimony before it selected its site." The state report also does not take a stand on whether the tower could go someplace else. Residents of the area have identified six alternate properties for construction of the tower. State Sen. Robert Venables (D - Laurel) received permission from the state's Fish and Wildlife Division to put the tower on one of those properties, a 17-acre parcel of state-owned land on Ellis Mill Road, about ? mile from the proposed site in a more rural area and out of view from Woodland. "It is not the role of the SHPO to make recommendations about alternate sites," the state's report says. In March, the Sussex County Board of Adjustment voted to table a decision on the tower pending completion of a study by Cingular on how the tower would impact the historic structures in the area. Such a study is required by the federal government whenever proposed construction involving federal funds could impact a site on the register. Acer Associates, contracted by Cingular to conduct the study, found that the historic properties in the area would not be affected by the tower. After asking for additional information, including a demonstration with a crane of what the tower would look like, the state agreed with the report from Acer Associates. "I'm not sure what the title 'State of Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs' means exactly," Jacobs said in a Nov. 16 letter to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. "But our culture is being rapidly changed by rampant commercialism and this cell tower location will change our rural roads, becoming the same as ugly Route 13." According to the state report, two facets of the tower's impact were looked at: Direct effects, or effects on historic properties at the site where the tower is proposed, and indirect effects, or effects on nearby properties. There will be no direct effects, the report said, because there are no buildings on the proposed tower site. As for the indirect effects on nearby Woodland Ferry and Cannon Hall, the report determined that "there is an absence of any blockage or intrusion into the Woodland Ferry historic district." "Simply being visible from the historic property does not necessarily cause an adverse effect," the report added. "The [state] found that the introduction of an incompatible visual and atmospheric element that would irrevocably change the character of this bucolic setting was not important," Conaway said. "The mission statement of Delaware's State Historic Preservation Office includes the following quote: 'Locate, study and record Delaware's historic properties and help and encourage Delawareans to value and protect these irreplaceable resources.' For 200 years the citizens of the Woodland Ferry area community have managed to do what [the state] will not. At great personal sacrifices of time and money, they have protected the integrity of the area for centuries." The state's preservation office has failed those citizens, she added. In his letter to Gov. Minner, Jacobs said that placement of cell phone towers should be regulated by the state rather than by the county. "Existing cell towers, including water towers and power transmission towers, must be made available for use by the entire wireless industry," he said. "Statewide, the construction and proliferation of individual towers must be curbed, especially in residential, historic, or other scenic countryside areas." Conaway said that it would be a shame if, come May when the reenactment of Capt. John Smith's 1608 trip up the Nanticoke River is set, participants in the reenactment can see a 175-foot tower near Woodland. "This historic journey will create an opportunity to show all Delawareans and all historic-minded citizens throughout the nation and the world the level of respect afforded Delaware's national historic treasures," she said. Citizens of the area should make every effort, she added, to ensure that photographs taken during the reenactment "do not include a towering artificial monument that would speak volumes to the short sightedness and lack of commitment from our Delaware historic organizations."

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