Radio Daze: Towers Need Study

December 22, 1993

With the number of cellular telephone customers growing exponentially, the number of radio towers needed to provide service for all areas of Carroll County will have to increase as well. The issue the county commissioners need to resolve is where to place these towers.

In urbanized areas, the cellular radio towers are usually unobtrusively situated on the roofs of tall buildings. They are hardly noticeable and blend in with the city scape. But in a rural county such as Carroll with virtually no tall buildings, these towers -- some as high as 250 feet -- are hard to miss.

At present, there is an ad hoc quality to the approval process for these towers. The cellular telephone companies determine where they need the towers, then they apply for conditional use permits from the Board of Zoning Appeals. Whether these requests get approved depends on the strength of the opposition within the surrounding communities.

While Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown may have adopted this issue to raise his political profile for his 1994 campaign for county commissioner, he has a point in calling for a moratorium on approvals, to allow for further study.

Before more approvals are granted, legitimate questions need to be answered. What is the minimum number of towers required to service the county? Can the different cellular companies share towers? Can existing radio and electric transmission towers be used? Would locating these towers only in industrial and business zones be feasible?

Answers to these questions would enable the zoning board to make more appropriate decisions and possibly locate some of these towers outside residential areas.

However, if the county government stops approvals so it can attempt to answer some of the health-related questions about the impact of electro-magnetic fields on human physiology, as ,, some have suggested, the act will simply be obstructionist. The county is not equipped to make that determination and will only call into question the impact of the existing radio towers, many of which emit far more wattage than the cellular towers.

There is no need for a protracted analysis. A 90-day study should give the zoning board the answers it needs to make more informed approvals of these cellular towers.

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