Six 350-foot radio towers could soon rise above a South Carroll cornfield if WCBM-AM wins county zoning approval to build on a 55-acre parcel near Sykesville.
Nicholas Mangione, owner of the Owings Mills station, has submitted plans to buy all but five of the 389 acres that 60-year-old Harold Mercer has farmed on Hoods Mill Road for tTC most of his life. Mr. Mercer and his wife will continue living in the 200-year-old home on the property.
Mr. Mangione must win conditional use approval to construct the towers on agriculture land. The Board of Zoning Appeals will hear the case Sept. 28.
"The towers will be on the back of the property and separated from us by a lot of trees," Mr. Mercer said. "We have no fear of the towers. We wouldn't let anything destroy the neighborhood."
William B. Dulany, the attorney for Mr. Mercer, plans to meet this week with neighbors of the proposed project to diffuse opposition.
The property is a little more than a mile west of Sykesville, where town officials and residents have battled the construction of a 200-foot telecommunications tower for nearly two years. The town has appealed the case to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
"A 350-foot tower will be visible from Timbuktu," said Matthew H. Candland, Sykesville town manager. An agreement between the county and its eight municipalities requires Carroll to keep town officials apprised of projects in their planning areas. The radio station's plans arrived in Sykesville's Town House on Thursday but the town Planning Commission cannot meet to review them until after the zoning appeals board hearing, Mr. Candland said.
Each tower must be at least 550 feet from any dwelling, according to the county's tower ordinance, adopted last year. No regulations exist for how far one tower must be from another, however. County officials said the towers would have to be equipped with flashing aircraft warning lights.
Lynne Dugan, a Hoods Mill Road resident for six years, said she wouldn't object to radio towers near her home.
"They are not a nuisance, won't generate traffic or need more public utilities," she said. "They may be unsightly, but they are necessary."
Harold Paine, a member of the South Carroll Citizens Committee, said that he and 32 adjoining landowners to the proposed site will oppose the structures.
"No. 1, they certainly will screw up the landscape," Mr. Paine said. "We absolutely don't want them here."
Although the citizens' group is fresh from winning a fight against a proposed county-run shooting range, members acknowledge that opposing WCBM may prove more difficult. "Here, you're dealing with private landowners, not politicians," Mr. Paine said.
Dan Hughes, a founder of Solutions for a Better South Carroll, another group of community activists, said Friday that the tower proposal is symptomatic of what is wrong with the way the county is developing. "They're fresh off fighting a gun range, and now they find out about this," Mr. Hughes said. "It's almost never-ending. I wish them luck, but by the time the public finds out about these things, it's almost always too late."
Joseph C. LaVerghetta, WCBM's attorney, said he is prepared for opposition to the project. "We chose the property because it fits in with our engineering demands," he said.
The all-talk station has outgrown the four towers it built in Owings Mills nearly 50 years ago, when that area was considered the far reaches of its market.
"Our market has migrated," Mr. LaVerghetta said. "We can't even reach Timonium and Cockeysville now."
The station ranks 12th out of 22 in overall ratings, according to Arbitron, drawing about 14,000 listeners in an average quarter-hour.
Although Mr. Mercer has had his property on the market for a few years, he has refused offers to divide it, including the station's first bid to buy 70 acres.
Neighbors also are concerned with what Mr. Mangione could do with the remaining property.
But Mr. LaVerghetta said there are no plans for the remaining 300-plus acres. It would be difficult to rezone from agricultural, Mr. Dulany said.