PIKE CREEK – The executive director of Catholic Cemeteries is defending the organization’s decision to host a cellular phone tower at All Saints Cemetery, saying the opposition to the tower is limited to a few neighboring homeowners.
“We’ve done what we could to make this palatable to the local community,” Mark Christian said.
A sign at All Saints Cemetery in Wilmington announces a Sept. 11 New Castle County Board of Adjustment meeting that will address Catholic Cemeteries’ application for a bell tower that’s also a cell phone tower. (Mike Lang/The Dialog)
Catholic Cemeteries negotiated extensively with AT&T over the course of several months about the design of the tower.
According to the application on file with New Castle County, the 142-foot high structure would be “sheathed” and serve as a bell tower for All Saints. It will sit in the section of the cemetery farthest from Kirkwood Highway, toward the football field at St. Mark’s High School, Christian said. He described it as a remote area of the cemetery, closest to a mausoleum.
Some cemetery plot owners with relatives buried at All Saints are upset they weren’t notified before the agreement between Catholic Cemeteries and AT&T. Frances Kelleher of Bellefonte, whose parents are buried there and who owns six unused plots, said if the project is approved she will be looking right at it from her parents’ graves.
“I don’t buy this bell tower is going to make it look right,” said Kelleher, a member of St. Helena’s Parish. “And to me that’s not really the issue. The issue is that it doesn’t belong on Catholic cemetery land. “I’m just really appalled that our Catholic cemetery would think that’s appropriate.”
Christian said relatives of those buried at All Saints were not notified because the tower will sit so far from any gravesites. He added that the reaction from plot owners or those with relatives buried there and from neighbors has been split about evenly on the issue.
An online petition opposing the tower stated nearby property values would be affected, as prospective homebuyers may be deterred by the “perceived health hazard” of electro-magnetic signals.
A website created to oppose the tower application says speakers will be placed 75 feet high to broadcast “bells, chimes or whatever else the cemetery chooses to broadcast.”
Christian said no final decision has been made on how the tower would be used by the cemetery.
“More than likely, if the noise becomes the overriding factor, we won’t even use the chimes. At this point, all that’s going to play is the chimes when a funeral comes to the cemetery.”
The New Castle County Board of Adjustment was scheduled to vote on the application in July, but that was postponed. It is expected to be on the agenda in September.
Christian said in a Facebook post that “lots of misinformation” has been disseminated regarding the tower. The nearest houses are more than 750 feet from the proposed site, and it was designed as a bell tower to fit the religious nature of the cemetery.
Cell-phone providers have approached Catholic Cemeteries many times over the years, Christian wrote, and “extensive” negotiations with AT&T “resulted in a cell tower that represents an attractive addition to the cemetery without negatively impacting any of our neighbors.”
“Little did we know,” the post continues, “that some of our neighbors would react so negatively to what we thought was a positive act for our community.”
The surrounding areas have suffered from poor cell service, he wrote, and the area has been designated as in need of improvement. Christian cited statistics that more than twice as many 911 calls originate from cell phones as from landlines and that All Saints is being a responsible neighbor.
Christian noted opposition from neighbors to other cemetery projects even though All Saints existed before most of those homes were built. Catholic Cemeteries, he added, has always tried to be a good neighbor, allowing an easement for a sewer feeder line for surrounding communities and donating the land across Kirkwood Highway where the New Castle County library branch was built. Cemeteries has also allowed its neighbors access to their backyards from All Saints property so swimming pools and other projects could be completed.