Board defers tower decision so it can sift evidence

February 08, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

After two days of testimony, the county Board of Zoning Appeals yesterday deferred its decision on a proposed 200-foot telecommunications tower in Sykesville until it reviews all the evidence.

The county must approve a zoning variance before Cellular One and Bell Atlantic Mobile can build the tower on conservation-zoned land adjoining Piney Run watershed on Hollenberry Road.

There is no time limit on when the board must make its decision.

With pictures, charts and 675 signatures in opposition, residents predicted detrimental effects of the tower on real estate and health. Several other community groups have joined the Piney Run Neighborhood Action Committee in opposition to the site.

"We haven't had a moment's peace since we found out about the tower," said Cathleen Heisch, organizer of the committee, which formed three months ago.

Residents testified they had purchased their property for the proximity to the watershed, and they are convinced that the tower will have a negative effect on home values.

"They want to put a 200-foot tower in an area where they can't put a four-story building," said John Morgan of Clark Drive, who estimated that the tower would cause a 1 percent annual loss to the value of his property. He calculated that such losses on his $150,000 home would mean $18,000 over 10 years.

"I am not willing to pay $18,000 to have a tower in my back yard," he said.

Two real estate agents offered examples of the negative impact of towers on nearby properties, many of which are in the $200,000 price range.

"A tower would have a 10 to 15 percent impact" on the asking price of a home, said Sylvia Gorman, who has 17 years of experience selling homes in Carroll County.

"It would have more impact on expensive homes where more sophisticated buyers have different parameters for what they will and will not accept," Ms. Gorman said.

Rather than repeat testimony, Brooks Leahy, attorney for the committee, said his clients would not have purchased their homes had the tower been in place at "the most misplaced location."

"Be sensitive to the needs of tax-paying property owners," Dan Hodges, a real estate agent, asked the board. He said a buyer for a property on Beachmont Drive immediately declined the contract when he was informed of the tower location.

Vincent DiPietro of Clark Drive gave lengthy testimony on the safety of electromagnetic waves. An electrical engineer, Mr. DiPietro said scientists "have not investigated all electromagnetic phenomena which can cause harm to humans."

Although the proposed tower does not violate national safety standards, the Environmental Protection Agency is continually reviewing its limits, he said. "What is scary is the limits are constantly being reduced," said Mr. DiPietro. "I have found no studies on long-term prolonged exposure to these waves, especially on growing children."

Clark R. Shaffer, an attorney representing Cellular One and the contract builder, West Shore Communications, said the board's role was to find the facts and apply the law to the facts. Property values and safety factors should not enter into the decision, he said.

"Conditional uses can only be defeated by probative, competent testimony," he said. "The application clearly shows it meets the standards of zoning ordinances."

Mr. Shaffer said residents who focus on aesthetics and health hazards would object to towers anywhere.

"If you turn down for those reasons, there are going to be no towers," he said.

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