Sykesville likely to get 2 towers County can't reach agreement with cellular operators

'A matter of arrogance'

Residents opposed original plan, lost in court

November 15, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

South Carroll may have two telecommunications towers where it needs only one.

The county announced plans yesterday to build a 225-foot steel tower in Sykesville, about a half-mile east of Route 32 on the grounds of Springfield Hospital Center.

Less than a mile away, a contractor for Cellular One is about to resume construction of a 200-foot tower for itself and Bell Atlantic Mobile.

The county had hoped that the cellular communications companies, based in Montgomery County, would use its site and abandon plans for the Hollenberry Road site, which residents and the town of Sykesville have opposed for two years.

"If we went to that site, we couldn't cover the whole area of service," said Julie Rosenthal, spokeswoman for Cellular One. "The hospital site doesn't meet our engineering needs."

County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, long an opponent of the Cellular One tower, said the Springfield site was more logical and better for the community.

"It's not a matter of engineering; it's a matter of arrogance," said the commissioner. "I continue to be amazed that a corporate entity, in the face of all protests and with other options available, has this supreme arrogance."

Mark Sapperstein, vice president of West Shore, the tower contractor, said yesterday that he expects to pour concrete as soon as the weather permits at the Hollenberry Road site, which Cellular One is leasing from William Shand, a homeowner who would live near the tower.

"It is silly to have two towers in the same area when we could have one, but no other site will serve as well as this one," Mr. Sapperstein said.

More than a year ago, Mr. Sapperstein received a county building permit and began work on the tower foundation. Three days into the project, the county, citing safety concerns, issued a stop-work order. Then, the commissioners enacted an ordinance that prevents tower construction in residential areas.

"The most lamentable aspect of the whole process is if the county had taken a strong position early in the game, this project would never have gone this far," said Kathy Blanco-Losada, whose property adjoins the West Shore site. "Citizens have the right to as strong a voice in decision-making as businesses."

The project has been the subject of several court cases and zoning appeals, all of which ended in favor of West Shore. One other case is pending in Circuit Court, and an appeal has been filed with the Court of Special Appeals.

"Technically, the contractor has the right to go ahead, but he does so at his own risk," said Ms. Blanco-Losada. "If he is overturned, he will have to take the tower down."

Mr. Sapperstein said he is willing to take the risk and that he expects to complete the project in two months. The courts have ruled in his favor previously, but Ms. Blanco-Losada is resolute.

"I haven't quit, and I won't until every avenue open to me has been exhausted," she said.

Originally, Cellular One offered the county free space on the tower. Faced with intense opposition from the town and neighbors of the site, the county asked Cellular One and West Shore to look for alternatives.

"All the studies showed we could get the best use possible with the least amount of impact at Hollenberry Road," Ms. Rosenthal said.

Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman said he understands the need for a tower but that he was disappointed at West Shore's decision. He planned to make one more appeal to Cellular One.

"I will ask them to co-locate on the county tower and abandon Hollenberry Road," he said. "It would show sensitivity to the community. Springfield may not be the perfect site, but it's the most appropriate."

Jay Nave, administrative assistant for the county Bureau of Roads Operations, expects construction on the county tower to take about six weeks early in the spring.

The county would sign a nominal, $1 annual lease for about 5,000 square feet, enough land for a tower and a maintenance building. The structure would be fenced and within a safe distance from hospital buildings, many of which are not in use.

"The worst case cost would be $308,000," Mr. Nave said. "But, we are looking at ways to pare that."

The county could eventually sell the tower to private industry and then lease space.

The hospital tower is part of the county plan to improve its emergency communications, particularly in South Carroll, where the hilly terrain causes frequent gaps in transmissions.

"The new tower will give us the ability to communicate directly with the fire service, the sheriff's office and emergency crews," said Mr. Nave. "It will be a major improvement."

The county commissioners expect to vote on the hospital tower project soon, Mr. Brown said. Once approved, the project would go out to bid.

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