Foes of Sykesville tower to be heard next month

January 28, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The controversy surrounding a proposed 200-foot telecommunications tower in Sykesville continues.

After a day of testimony -- mostly from Cellular One -- the county Board of Zoning Appeals said yesterday it will resume its hearing at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 7.

"I am glad we have more time; I didn't want to feel rushed," said Cathleen Heisch, organizer of the Piney Run Neighborhood Action Committee, which was formed two months ago to oppose the tower. "They have had their say, and the next day will be our turn."

Cellular One and Bell Atlantic are proposing the tower for conservation-zoned land adjoining the Piney Run watershed on Hollenberry Road, just outside the town limits.

Jeff Owens, site developer for Cellular One, said the company needs the tower to fill gaps in cellular phone coverage in the county -- especially in the southeast.

"We are mandated to provide continuous, reliable coverage," said Mr. Owens.

Bell Atlantic and Cellular One have agreed to lease a half-acre from William J. and Phyllis Shand for $550 a month to build the tower and two maintenance buildings. They will lease space to other users.

"This site gives us the most continuous coverage," said Ed Howell, a radio frequency engineer for Cellular One.

The county board must approve a conditional variance before the tower can be built.

Residents have organized opposition based on health issues, aesthetics and diminished property value.

Before calling any witnesses, Clark R. Shaffer, an attorney repre

senting Cellular One and the contract builder, West Shore Communications, challenged any discussion of health issues.

"I take the position that health effects are pre-empted by federal and state regulations, and I preserve a standing objection," said Mr. Shaffer.

David Werner, whose home overlooks the proposed site, took exception.

"We can't push health issues aside," Mr. Werner said. "Isn't it prudent to consider the dangers of electromagnetic radiation now and protect future generations?"

Ronald Lipman, a real estate appraiser and consultant, said he had studied the tower site, tax maps and area home sales to "assess, evaluate and analyze the effect on property values."

"The proposed tower will have no adverse effect on the immediately surrounding residential areas," he said.

Mr. Lipman produced photos of the areas surrounding Hollenberry Road, including shots of 35-foot utility poles on both sides of adjoining streets.

"We all live with telephone poles as part of the landscape," he said, arguing that the tower would not be any more intrusive than such poles, which people have come to accept.

Several Hollenberry Road neighbors said they discounted Mr. Lipman's study and said they would not purchase a home within sight of a tower.

Buddy Redman, county chief of the Bureau of Emergency Services Operations, testified to the need for better communications in southeast Carroll.

"We have received complaints that we don't always answer, but we can't always hear," said Mr. Redman. "The benefits of a tower are not site-specific. Any tower in the southeast would improve communications."

Mark Sapperstein, owner of West Shore, which will construct the tow

er, has offered Emergency Services free use of space on the tower.

"Co-locating" several companies on one tower will minimize the number of tower sites in the county, he said.

Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said he was impressed with "the expert witnesses" but asked the board to take their testimony "with a grain of salt."

"I don't have enough salt to take what they say at face value," said the mayor, who calls tower construction a countywide issue. "Ask yourself if you owned adjacent property, would you be concerned?"

James L. Schumacher, Sykesville town manager, said the tower "is not as far away from residents as possible." He offered the board a map detailing nearly 500 planned new homes near the site.

Lauren Ballentine, whose property is adjacent to the site, and Mr. Werner are unable to attend the Feb. 7 hearing. The board listened to their arguments at the end of the day's testimony.

"This tower will damage the serene beauty of the landscape and potentially harm children," she said. "Use of cellular phones is a luxury item that we don't need to survive."

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