New crop, 350 feet tall Howard County: Radio towers, rather than produce, may be the future for farmland

September 28, 1995

INSTEAD OF raising crops, the future for some area farmland seems to be in growing radio towers. The announcement that WCBM-AM is seeking zoning approval to construct six 350-foot towers at the border of South Carroll and Howard County comes on the heels of a two-year fight over the construction of a 200-foot cellular phone tower near Sykesville.

These towers will be located on what has been the 389-acre farm of Harold Mercer off Hoods Mill Road near the county line. Mr. Mercer has agreed to sell all but five acres to WCBM. The station is owned by Nicholas Mangione, who owns, among other properties, the Turf Valley Hotel & Country Club in Ellicott City. In order to construct these towers, WCBM will need to obtain a conditional use permit. The land the company is purchasing is currently zoned for agriculture. Radio towers are not a permitted use on agricultural land. The Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to hear the case today.

From an aesthetic standpoint, these towers will be an intrusion into an area that is dominated by woodlands, farm fields and residential development. If they are constructed, Carroll and Howard residents for miles around will be able to see them.

Placing radio towers on agricultural- or conservation-zoned land is much cheaper than constructing them on commercial- or industrial-zoned land. The cost of the land is one of the primary reasons Cellular One was so adamant about keeping the controveresial site it had chosen on Hollenberry Road. The company was leasing it for a fraction of what it would have had to pay to lease commercial and business property.

WCBM says the property it has chosen fulfills its technical broadcast needs. But clearly the availability of the land is a primary factor in the selection of the site. Has the station considered Gov. Parris N. Glendening's offer of state-owned land for such purposes?

Until other avenues are explored, the Board of Zoning Appeals should not grant this conditional use permit. If it does, it will be sending a signal that area farm fields are better suited to making radio waves than amber waves of grain.

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