Communications towers discussed

March 08, 1995|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

An attorney for several mobile telephone companies told county planners that height restrictions for communications towers should be abolished in favor of a graduated scale that allows 100-foot-tall structures in residential areas and larger towers elsewhere.

The steel towers and poles should be subject to the "least restrictions in industrial zones and the most restrictions in residential areas . . . for obvious reasons," said James R. Michal, who helped rewrite the zoning code in Fairfax County, Va.

He and representatives of four wireless communications companies met yesterday with Planning Director Steven R. Cover, Office of Planning and Code Enforcement staff and several elected officials.

With applications for communications structures growing sevenfold in a year and neighborhood opposition mounting at every turn, Mr. Cover said he wanted to update the 1967 code to reflect changing technology.

Under current provisions, communications towers and poles are a public utility, like broadcast towers. They need a building permit in the most dense commercial and industrial areas, but a special exception to the zoning code and height variances everywhere else. While a single broadcast tower covers a huge area, it takes a network of antennas, some only a mile apart, for mobile phones, pagers and personal communications devices.

Mr. Cover said his office will evaluate whether poles or towers should be a permitted use in each zoning category and draft legislation based on that by the end of March. He expects to inventory county government and school system buildings this month as well. It may take only a few very tall towers to serve all of southern Anne Arundel, company officials speculated.

"I see a conflict in my district in the more rural areas where you say you'll need higher towers," said County Councilman John Klocko, whose district covers most of West County and South County, where residents have waged bitter wars against towers.

For the companies, building a tower or pole is a last resort, said Robert McAvoy, regional real estate manager for Bell Atlantic Mobile. Companies prefer to lease antenna space on structures, such as tall buildings and water towers, because that takes the least time and money.

In Anne Arundel, Bell Atlantic and Cellular One have nearly half their antennas on buildings. Their first choice is government-owned buildings, but they rent space on other towers and build structures on which they let local emergency services place their antennas.

If a company cannot place an antenna in a particular area, it cannot serve the region where it bought a very expensive Federal Communications Commission license, Mr. Michal said.

The code changes may help the industry in Anne Arundel County, but cellular phone and personal communications lobby groups are scheduled to meet today with Senate Commerce Committee members on some of the most contentious issues in siting towers, said Alphonso Jenkins Jr., director of real estate management for American Personal Communications in Bethesda.

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