Monkton Woman Challenges Corporate Goliath Over Tower

January 27, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

Joanne C. Emkey of Monkton said she doesn't like the possibility of spending hundreds of dollars in legal fees or of representing herselfin Harford Circuit Court.

But she said she likes the alternative even less.

Emkey is fighting plans by Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems Inc. to erect a 280-foot communications tower that would stand about 300 feet from her country home in the historic My Ladys Manor area of western Harford County.

She is challenging in Circuit Court a county Boardof Zoning Appeals decision granting Bell Atlantic a special zoning exception to erect the tower. Her appeal was filed Jan. 14.

Emkey said she fears that the tower will lower the value of her house in the4000 block of Old York Road near Shawsville. She and her husband, Frank, have owned their home since 1978.

"We'll be viewing that tower every day of our lives," Emkey said.

Emkey filed her appeal using tips from University of Maryland's environmental law center. So far, the costs have been limited to an $80 case-filing fee.

The case is scheduled for a hearing April 4.

Emkey was denied a request forthe People's Counsel to represent her during zoning hearings on the case. Robert F. Kahoe Jr., a Bel Air attorney who serves as the People's Counsel in planning and zoning matters, said the county generallydoes not get involved in cases involving communications towers.

"They're hard to win," Kahoe said.

Bell Atlantic, of Bedminster, N.J., is leasing a portion of a 150-acre farm in the 4100 block of Old York Road for the tower. The farm is owned by Ross Smith, whose family has farmed the tract for four generations, according to documents filed with the county zoning hearing examiner.

Because the site is in an agricultural district, the company had to obtain a special exception from the county zoning hearing examiner.

William F. Casey, the county zoning hearing examiner, granted Bell Atlantic's special exception in August.

The County Council, which sits as the board of zoning appeals, upheld the decision in December.

Bell Atlantic selected the Old York Road site for the tower to improve cellular mobilephone services in northern Baltimore and Harford counties, said Harry H. Fisher Jr., a spokesman for Bell Atlantic.

"We have very, very poor coverage in that area at the present time," Fisher said. "We want to improve our coverage there."

The tower also will serve emergency medical, fire and police agencies in Harford County, Fisher said.

In her appeal, Emkey argues that the county did not fully consider the adverse effects the tower would have on the rural neighborhood.

Emkey argues that in addition to lowering property values, the tower would emit microwaves that would endanger the health of residents. The structure is inappropriate for the historical My Ladys Manor area, she believes.

My Ladys Manor is a sprawling agricultural area in Baltimore and Harford counties that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said Christopher Weeks, of the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

Most of My Ladys Manor is in Baltimore County, but about 1,000 acres lies in Harford along JarrettsvillePike, between Hess and Old York roads, Weeks said.

Casey wrote inhis decision that the tower is not near any cultural or historical landmarks or buildings.

Emkey argues that Smith and Bell Atlantic need a federal permit for the tower because of My Ladys Manor's historic designation.

Stephen Markendorff, spokesman for the Federal Communications Commission, said applicants for towers must submit an environmental impact study, which would cover historic areas, before receiving FCC approval.

Fisher, of Bell Atlantic, contends the company did not have to file the study.

He said the tower will not affect the historic designation of My Ladys Manor.

"That (designation) has no bearing on the tower at all," Fisher said. "It might be a historical area but there are no historical landmarks."

Albert J. A. Young, a Bel Air attorney representing Smith and Bell Atlantic, said, "None of this was raised before. It's going to be inadmissible. . . .(Emkey) was not allowed to talk about it before. She's not going to be allowed to talk about it in circuit court."

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