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Cellphone tower near Eastern Boulevard pines to blend in

Known in the telecommunications industry as a 'stealth monopole' or a 'monopine,' it is the first of its kind in Washington County

February 12, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • A new 150-foot cell phone tower near Eastern Boulevard is disguised as a pine tree or 'monopine.' The Verizon Wireless cell tower at 11850 Indian Lane is the first tree-shaped tower the company has built in Washington County.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Asked his thoughts on a new, 150-foot cellphone tower near Eastern Boulevard as he pumped gas at a nearby Sheetz, Jacob Shaw squinted at the horizon.

“That’s a cell tower?” he asked, laughing. “I didn’t even notice it because it hides.”

Or, rather, the tower is incognito, disguised as a tall pine tree in a design known in the telecommunications industry as a “stealth monopole” or a “monopine.”

On second look, Shaw found the tower’s disguise a little more dubious.

“It is kind of an awfully high pine tree,” he said.

The Verizon Wireless cell tower at 11850 Indian Lane is the first tree-shaped tower the company has built in Washington County, spokeswoman Melanie Ortel said. Construction began in November 2011 and the branches were completed Jan. 9.

“Treepoles like this work particularly well in more rural, pristine or forested areas,” Ortel said.

The company has also built silo-shaped towers and has used a saguaro cactus design in Arizona, she said.

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Not everyone was pleased with the use of the tree design on the Indian Lane site, where the tower extends well above the tops of the trees growing along Antietam Creek behind Light Business Park.

The Washington County Historic District Commission wrote in a Sept. 2010 memo to the county Board of Zoning Appeals that “attempts to disguise the tower as a tree make it more obtrusive on the horizon, rather than less.”

The board approved a special exception allowing the pole to be built.

Historic District Commission Chairman Charles Stewart, whose law office is within view of the tower, said the result is as awkward looking as the group feared.

“It’s three or four times the size of the other trees,” he said. “I think it looks kind of absurd.”

However, Stewart said, as tower sites go, the location could be worse.

The commission has fought against towers at Antietam National Battlefield and the Sharpsburg area that ended up not being built, he said.

“There is no perfect place for it,” he said. “(The site near Eastern Boulevard) is probably about as good as you’ll get.”

And, as a Verizon Wireless customer, Stewart added, he is grateful for the improved coverage.

The new tower is critical to providing continuous coverage along the Md. 64 corridor and surrounding area, Charles Salamone, a consultant to Verizon, wrote in an application for the special exception from the county.

“As the number of Verizon Wireless customers on a given network increases, there is a need to increase capacity on the network in order to provide instant service for emergency calls, as well as normal business and personal calls,” another application document said.

Ortel said the tower also allows the company to expand its 4G LTE service in Hagerstown. 4G LTE, which provides data speeds up to 10 times faster than the company’s 3G network, was introduced in Hagerstown in August, Ortel said.

Many area residents and employees reacted positively to the tower design.

“It looks better than just plain,” said Jim Stevens, who works near the tower. “I think it blends in better.”

Diane Dozier, another area worker, said viewing the tree from a distance, she assumed it was a Christmas decoration.

Michelle Williams of Hagerstown called the design “pretty sneaky.”

“I’d probably prefer to know it’s a cell tower,” she said.

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