Residents fight proposed phone tower

September 26, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Anne Lukiewski envisions the cellular phone tower that may be built in her Ellicott City neighborhood and shudders.

"It's an invisible threat," said the Wilton Acres resident, who is fighting the construction of a 125-foot communications tower near Patapsco Middle School.

Cellular One, a subsidiary of Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems Inc., wants to build the steel tower on land it leases from First Church of the Nazarene on Rogers Avenue. The tower would be about 185 feet from the school's soccer and football fields and about 450 feet from the school.

"I am enraged," said Jean McKee, who has two daughters at Patapsco Middle School. "They're just going to plop it over there without any regard to the children. It's just blatant disregard for the children."

The county Planning Board already has approved the tower. The Board of Appeals will hold a public hearing on the tower Oct. 18.

Residents fear the tower would emit electromagnetic radiation that could harm students at the middle school and an elementary school that will open in August 1997.

But Cellular One officials say the electromagnetic energy from cellular towers is within safety standards.

"We would never ever put something in a community that will harm you," said Julie Rosenthal, public relations director for Cellular One in Greenbelt.

But an Aug. 14 study by the county Department of Planning and Zoning said there is no scientific agreement about the health effects of long-term exposure to low levels of electromagnetic radiation.

And that's what worries residents. They want more in-depth studies done on the effects of electromagnetic radiation before a tower is built next to a school.

"We can't prove there's an actual health risk, but they can't prove there's not," Ms. Lukiewski said. "I don't think children should be used as guinea pigs until more studies are done."

Ms. Rosenthal said the height of cellular towers and their distance from houses ensure that only low, harmless levels of radio frequency energy will reach residents.

If the tower is approved by the Board of Appeals, it will be built in woods and surrounded by an 8-foot-high chain link fence topped with three strands of barbed wire. A one-story equipment building will be located in the enclosure.

Residents worry that more such towers will appear in their neighborhoods. They prefer that cellular towers be placed in business or agricultural areas. "It's an intrusion of commercial structures in residential neighborhoods," said Betty Thornton, who has passed out fliers warning residents of the proposed tower.

In Howard County, towers are permitted in commercial, business, and agricultural areas but must have a special exemption in residential neighborhoods.

Twenty-two communications towers are located in the county.

Cellular One chose the Wilton Acres site because it is in a wooded area away from homes. Before selecting the site, the company considered existing structures, such as an office building, for its antennae but could not find one suitable for the intended two- to three-mile cellular phone coverage area.

In the meantime, residents hope to collect 2,000 signatures in an effort to show county officials how worried people are about the tower.

They plan to submit the petition to the Board of Appeals on Oct. 18.

MA "We just want them to pick another site," Ms. Lukiewski said.

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