Frankenpines, Monopalms, and the Jolly Green Giant

I have been interested in concealed telecommunications sites since I first began working on regulatory compliance for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licensees struggling to understand the complexities of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. This is the first of a series of posts on concealed telecommunications infrastructure and the American landscape.

Monopines. Whitemarsh Township, Pennsylvania.

Antenna structures designed in the form of trees to conceal antennas have been available since 1992. The premise behind the tree tower (also known as “monopines”, monopalms, etc.) concept was to accommodate the proliferation of wireless facilities in suburban and rural areas by providing a design that “can be installed inconspicuously at high elevations so as not to raise objections from the governing bodies and residents of local communities or from environmental groups.”[1] Tree structures have been installed across the nation to minimize the visibility of wireless equipment from historic properties (including Virginia’s Mt. Vernon), natural landscapes, designed cultural landscapes (including the Bronx Zoo in New York City), highway corridors, and expensive subdivisions.[2] The approach is successful under the right conditions, i.e., when the monopine does not become a more conspicuous element and focal point in the landscape than an ordinary antenna structure (e.g., a monopole).[3] “Often, in the case of pole disguises, they do not appear ‘natural’ and their size or shape is out of proportion with the typical structure,” wrote the inventors of one antenna concealment system.[4]

Antenna Support Structure Patent. Source: USPTO.

While serving on the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) I was asked by the county attorney to testify as an expert on behalf of the county in a Board of Appeals case where the HPC denied a historic area work permit to Verizon Wireless. Verizon had proposed constructing a “monopine” in a historic district. The HPC denied the permit because it found that the monopine would create more of a visual impact than a brown stick monopole or other design (including an ordinary monopole with standard antenna array attachments). Verizon appealed and the HPC decision was overturned by the Board of Appeals. Copied below is the portion of the published opinion which covers my testimony on monopines and their kin:

8.            Dr. David Rotenstein testified for the County. He was accepted as an expert in historic preservation. He testified that he was familiar with Appellant’s HAWP. He testified that in his capacity as an historic preservationist, he had reviewed the placement of other telecommunication facilities within historic districts and on historic resources. He testified that he had dealt with concealed telecommunications facilities on several occasions, including facilities located within church steeples, monopines, monopalms, facilities located in building bulkheads, and facilities co-located flush on historic buildings, painted to match. Dr. Rotenstein testified that he was familiar with the Woodfield Historic District from the materials presented in support of the HAWP application. He also testified that he is familiar with Section 24A of the Montgomery County Code, which he described as being more stringent than the standards for Section 106 [of the National Historic Preservation Act], as applied to Federal Communications Commission licensees. He stated that he is familiar with the guidelines that the HPC uses in determining whether or not to approve a HAWP, stating that they are guided first and foremost by Chapter 24A of the Montgomery County Code; secondly, by the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Rehabilitation; and finally, by individual changes to the Master Plan for Historic Preservation that specify treatment for specific historic districts that have gone through the historic review process.

Dr. Rotenstein testified that as a professional, he defines “visual impact” as any change in the visual environment, positive or negative, that influences a viewer’s ability to interpret the surrounding cultural landscape, whether it’s a building, a farm field, a battlefield, or something else. He testified that there is no threshold number of properties within an historic district that must be affected by a proposed installation before the district is considered impacted, testifying that the district either is or is not affected, and that if it is affected, the effect is either adverse or not adverse. He further testified that simply creating a negative visual impact or a significant visual impact to one property crosses the line into what he would call adverse or significant impact. He testified that the introduction of an element that is out of scale or out of character with the historic district, such as an 87 foot telecommunications facility constructed of synthetic materials which does not resemble a natural tree, draws the attention of the viewer towards the out of scale element. He testified that this has been demonstrated in engineering and psychological studies. He went on to state that stealth trees such as monopines and monopalms have achieved a status in our society where they’re lampooned and caricatured in all aspects of popular culture.[5]

Dr. Rotenstein testified that the photographic simulations provided by the Appellant lack the full range of the color spectrum that the human eye can see, and that they do not convey the interaction between the artificial installation and the natural environment. By way of example, he noted that a tree in full leaf and the artificial tree would react differently to wind, and testified that the viewer would be confronted by the instantaneous juxtaposition of the artificial and the natural.

Dr. Rotenstein testified that in his professional opinion, the proposed monopole installation does not conform to the Secretary’s Guidelines or to Chapter 24A because it introduces something that is out of scale and character with the historic district. He testified that he would advise a client seeking such an installation to first consider co-location possibilities and, failing that, that he would strongly recommend a change in the design of the facility to minimize its visibility within the historic district. Dr. Rotenstein testified that he had previously advised clients in Section 106 proceedings and in local zoning proceedings about alternative designs for historic properties or districts. He stated that in the instant case, rather than a monopine, he would recommend construction of a brown stick monopole,[6] which he testified would create less of a visual impact. He reiterated his position that the stealth aspect of the proposed monopole creates more of a visual impact than would such a structure if it looked like what it is—a telecommunications facility. He noted that the fake branches on this monopine actually cause the monopole to be seven feet taller than it would otherwise need to be. Finally, he testified that it was his understanding that the construction of a monopine could be as much as twice as expensive as a standard, non-stealth telecommunications structure.

Dr. Rotenstein testified that he had taught a class on compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act which had caused him to visit dozens of stealth monopole installations, from California to New England. He presented pictures of some of those monopoles to the Board, describing them as he went, indicating that some stand out, while others are well-done.

On cross-examination, Dr. Rotenstein differentiated the type of work he does from that done by Ms. Mahood, and acknowledged that he had done consulting work for Sprint/Nextel, a competitor of Verizon. He testified that he was aware that Sprint had built a flagpole monopole at the church properties in question in this proceeding, but stated that he was unaware of when that facility was constructed. He testified in response to questioning on cross-examination that he had not appeared at public hearings for the Sprint monopole to oppose it because of its impact on the historic district.

Dr. Rotenstein testified in response to questioning on cross-examination that he was familiar with “About Communications Towers, Historic Preservation Perspective,” published by the State of New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection, Natural and Historic Resources Historic Preservation Office, which indicated that the stealth (tree) design of the telecommunications installation at Mount Vernon reduced its visibility.

Dr. Rotenstein testified on re-direct that there is a tremendous amount of disagreement in the historic preservation community as to whether telecommunications facilities adversely affect historic properties. He testified that there is no “cookie cutter” approach to mitigating the adverse effects of such facilities, but rather that there was consensus that every situation is unique, and requires a solution that is particular to that situation.


[1] Robert P. Juengert and Edward Weingart, “Antenna Support Structure,” Patent 5,611,176 (Manahawkin, New Jersey, 18 March 1997), U.S. Patent, columns1-2.

[2] Julie Rawe, “Cellular’s New Camouflage,” Time 3 December 2002: Time Inside Business / Environment, From the Dec. 09, 2002 Issue of TIME Magazine <http://www.time.com/time/insidebiz/article/0,9171,1101021209-395336-1,00.html>.

[3] Michelle Delio, “Stealth Antennas Try to Blend In,” Wired News 14 January 2003, 21 May 2002 <http://www.wired.com/news/wireless/0,1382,57199,00.html>; David S. Rotenstein, “A Greater Total”: The New York Botanical Garden and the Fordham University WFUV(FM) Tower, Bronx, New York. A National Historic Preservation Act, Section 106, Historic Properties Survey and Determination of Effects Report, Report Submitted to The New York Botanical Garden (Silver Spring, MD: D.S. Rotenstein, 1 June 2002), 78-79 <http://www.historian4hire.net/pdf/NYBG_Report-FINAL_COLOR.pdf>.

[4] William Gietema and Richard R. Harlan, “System and Method of Integrating and Concealing Antennas, Antenna Subsystems and Communications Subsystems,” Patent 6,222,503 (24 April 2001), column 3, lines 50-55.

[5] See, e.g., www.fraudfrond.com.

[6] Dr. Rotenstein explained that a “brown stick monopole” is essentially a monopole, painted with a mat finish to minimize visibility.  He testified that all of the antennae, cables, and other equipment are located inside of the pole, and that the pole itself is a narrower structure than the proposed stealth tree design.

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  1. Pingback: frankenpine / monopine / monopalm « Glossaries

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