Plan to build 6 radio towers sparks conflict Neighbors who object rally to bill that would kill project

'Responsive government'

Backers of proposal complain of 'spot zoning' strategy

November 14, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A plan to build six 350-foot radio towers in South Carroll is pitting neighbors against an Owings Mills business, a longtime landowner and amateur radio operators. And it might place the county commissioners at odds withRoad rounded up 25 people for a public hearing yesterday to back a proposed county ordinance that would kill the project.

Those in favor of building the towers branded the proposed ordinance "spot zoning" introduced in reaction to the WCBM plan. The bill would would restrict radio towers to industrial sites.

Meanwhile, the county Board of Zoning Appeals will continue hearing testimony on the project Thursday afternoon. Although the sale of the the Mercer farm is contingent on WCBM's obtaining a conditional use from the zoning board, the tower ordinance could scuttle the project.

"This ordinance is an effort to change the playing field," said J. Brooks Leahy, attorney for the Mercers.

William B. Dulany, his law partner, called the ordinance "spot zoning in response to protests from a few homeowners."

By enacting an ordinance in response to complaints, the county used the only legislative method available to it, said James Talley, a member of South Carroll Concerned Citizens.

"Support this ordinance and allow any future problems to be resolved ahead of time, rather than continually chasing after a solution," said Mr. Talley of Old Washington Road.

"This isn't dirty government; it's responsive government," said Dan Hughes, founder of Solutions for a Better South Carroll, another neighborhood activist group. "The commissioners are obligated to protect the rights of citizens."

Harold Mercer, a lifelong resident of the farm he is selling, said the county "is changing horses in the middle of the stream. You have to let due process take its course."

Jerrold Billmyer, an amateur radio operator, said the ordinance would infringe on the rights of fellow operators, who often build several towers on their properties.

"We may need a zoning ordinance of our own to protect our rights," he said.

Harold Paine, a South Carroll business owner, said the towers would bring "absolutely nothing in revenue to the county."

The station would pay property taxes on the parcel where it built the towers and a decreasing personal property tax on the structures. The new owners have agreed to place the remaining farmland in the Maryland Agricultural Trust.

Although the towers will not generate jobs, they also will not create a demand for services that follows residential development, Mr. Leahy said.

"There is not a single business or land use that some neighbor won't object to," he said. "Seventy acres of industrial land would be totally unaffordable," he said.

"And not the optimal use for industrial land," said Joseph C. LaVerghetta, attorney for WCBM.

Jerry Thurber of Hoods Mill Road said he expects "severe interference within a half-mile of the site." He did door-to-door research among neighbors of the WBAL radio towers in Baltimore.

"The towers affect phones and televisions," he said. "One woman told me she couldn't transmit from her fax."

Mr. LaVerghetta said inexpensive filters eliminate interference.

"My clients go to extremes to avoid detrimental effects," he said.

If WCBM is successful in its petition, it will dismantle its four transmission towers near Route 795 in Owings Mills. The owners have just petitioned Baltimore County to have that 32-acre site zoned for manufacturing, which "is consistent with the area," said Mr. LaVerghetta.

Carroll's three commissioners said they will leave the record open for 10 days before voting on the proposed ordinance to allow more public comment.

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