Opponents in tower debate dig in

April 09, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare and Kerry O'Rourke | Mary Gail Hare and Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writers

Carroll County will not back away from its opposition to a telecommunications tower on Hollenberry Road in Sykesville and will not put its antennas on a tower on that conservation-zoned property.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown blamed Cellular One, which favors Hollenberry Road for its tower, and the previous board of county commissioners for the problems at the Hollenberry site.

"Cell One is a sinister force with a cocky reputation," said Mr. Brown, who has long opposed towers in residential areas.

"The company's only goal is to catch up with Bell Atlantic in the market," he said.

Cellular One should not have dug in its heels at the location, he said, and should have acknowledged the amount of opposition.

"They need to find another place for their tower. This was more than just a minor NIMBY [not-in-my-backyard] case," Mr. Brown said.

The commissioners have met with all parties involved in the past two months to try to agree on a more suitable site for the tower, he said, but have not been successful.

Cellular One has worked with the county in a search for alternative sites, said Jeffrey Owens, the company's senior manager of real estate.

He reviewed possibilities at Springfield Hospital Center, Raincliffe Industrial Center and the Sykesville-Freedom Volunteer Fire Department.

The alternatives would meet some. but not all. of the telecommunication needs in the Sykesville area, where the hilly terrain frequently causes gaps in cellular communications coverage.

"None of the alternative sites offer the same quality of coverage of the area as Hollenberry Road," said Mr. Owens.

"A tower at any one of the alternatives would have to be higher and much more visible with flashing red lights. There would probably also have to be a second tower to cover the area completely," he added.

Bell Atlantic said last week it would consider building a 250-foot tower on the state-owned Springfield grounds, but only if its competitor also would locate there.

Ed Ryan, Maryland's director of radio services, said the state Department of General Services is preparing requests for proposals for telecommunications vendors interested in using state property for towers.

"It could be a win-win situation for the state and any vendors," said Mr. Ryan.

"The state also needs sites for its communication services," he said.

Mr. Ryan said he has no idea how much interest exists for leasing state land.

Mr. Owens said Cellular One remains committed to Hollenberry Road, the site it selected after an extensive study of the South Carroll area.

"On Hollenberry Road, the tower could be lower," said Mr. Owens. "The area is sparsely populated, and there are trees to hide the tower. For many technical reasons, the site is the best in the area."

Cellular One is committed to the "fewest number of towers at the lowest heights," he said.

Mr. Brown said the former commissioners, who left office in December, must also share the blame because they should have temporarily stopped zoning hearings on applications for telecommunications towers.

Mr. Brown, while mayor of Westminster, asked the commissioners in December 1993 to institute a 12- to-18-month moratorium to study the tower issue and take comments from residents.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates called the tower "a monstrosity" and said the county became involved in the issue because it has a duty to protect public safety.

If a tower fell, it could injure someone, he said. Houses are within the area in which the tower would fall.

The commissioners issued a one-page statement Friday explaining their position on the Hollenberry Road tower.

Sykesville-area residents have called and sent letters recently asking whether the county's opposition to the tower at that site had weakened, Mr. Brown said.

The commissioners are "fully committed" to going ahead with an appeal, filed in Carroll Circuit Court, of the Board of Zoning Appeals' decision to allow the tower to be built at Hollenberry Road, Mr. Brown said.

Area resident Kathy Blanco-Losada, the town of Sykesville and the commissioners asked the court to hear their appeal.

A trial is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 21 before Judge Luke K. Burns Jr.

Mr. Brown said the county has decided it will not attach any of its antennas for emergency communications to the tower if the judge allows it to be built. West Shore Communications Inc., which would build the structure, had offered the county free space.

In addition to the Circuit Court appeal, Ms. Blanco-Losada and the town of Sykesville have appealed an action on the tower taken by the county Planning Commission in October.

The Planning Commission should have rescinded or reconsidered its vote to approve the site plan for the proposed tower in order to take testimony from the town at the commission's Oct. 18 meeting, Ms. Blanco-Losada said.

A hearing on the appeal is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. April 25 before the zoning board.

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