Board forced to schedule another hearing on cellular phone tower near school

October 19, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

A Board of Appeals hearing last night on a proposed cellular phone tower near an Ellicott City middle school attracted so many people that the board was forced to continue the hearing.

Nearly 50 people signed up to testify at last night's session. After 4 1/2 hours, the board had heard testimony from only three people, forcing the five-member panel to schedule another hearing for Nov. 1.

Cellular One, a subsidiary of Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems Inc., wants to build a 125-foot communications tower near Patapsco Middle School on land it leases from First Church of the Nazarene on Rogers Avenue. The tower would be about 185 feet from school playing fields and about 450 feet from the school.

Company officials say the tower is needed to improve poor frequency for its cellular phone customers using nearby Interstate 70.

But residents fear that the tower would emit electromagnetic radiation that could harm students at the middle school and at a nearby elementary school scheduled to open in August 1997.

"We're concerned about the long-term health consequences," said Jim Matsakis, an Ellicott City resident who has a 2-year-old son. "We don't want our kids to be guinea pigs in this lab experiment."

Leah Rempert, president of the Patapsco Middle School PTA, said, "We don't know what the health risk is. We can't find definitive medical research" to show electromagnetic energy is harmless.

In the past, Cellular One officials have said the electromagnetic energy from cellular towers meets national safety standards. The height of cellular towers and their distance from houses ensure that only low, harmless levels of radio frequency energy will reach residents.

But last night, Cellular One had time only to discuss its site selection process for cellular phone towers. The Rogers Avenue site was chosen because it is in a wooded area away from homes, said Jeff Owens, senior real estate manager for Cellular One.

Before choosing that location, the company considered existing structures such as office buildings and other communications towers, but it could not find any that would be suitable for the intended two- to three-mile cellular phone coverage area and that would be far enough away from residences.

Cellular One has seven transmission sites in the county, Mr. Owens said. Of the seven, two are phone towers owned by the company.

Two county-owned towers being used by the company are next to schools: Howard High in Ellicott City and the Howard County Gateway School in Clarksville.

Residents said they prefer the towers to be in business or rural areas.

"We're not opposed to progress," Mr. Matsakis said. "We're opposed to the location."

If the tower is approved by the Board of Appeals, it will be surrounded by an 8-foot-high chain-link fence topped by barbed wire.

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