Board would let towers be built Radio station's structures planned on 400-acre farm

November 17, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

An Owings Mills radio station cleared one hurdle yesterday in its quest to build six 350-foot towers on a Carroll County farm.

The Carroll Board of Zoning Appeals ruled that the rights of a longtime local farmer to sell his property to WCBM-AM override the concerns of adjoining property owners.

Residents from Carroll and Howard counties protested the radio tower complex proposed for a 400-acre farm near Route 97 and the county line. Sale of the Hoods Mill Road property, owned by Harold Mercer, was contingent on the radio station winning the board's approval.

About a dozen residents testified yesterday, the third day of a hearing on the conditional use application.

"Allowing those towers is like kicking my front door in and invading my home," said Warren Harden, of Underwood Road in Howard County.

His pleas to "protect me in the peaceful enjoyment of my home" went unheard. The board voted 3-to-1 to allow the project to proceed.

"The board did not hear the facts and they did not correctly interpret the testimony," said James Talley, chairman of the South Carroll Concerned Citizens Committee. "They totally ignored their own master plan."

Despite evidence of radio interference, diminished property values and adverse impact from both health and aesthetic standpoints, the board ruled the $1 million project is an acceptable use for agricultural land.

"If you have 400 acres and can't put a tower on them, I don't know where you can," said Woodrow Raver, zoning board member.

Karl V. Reichlin agreed with his colleague. Although he said he could see both sides of the argument, he "had not seen any concrete evidence" to support the residents' concerns.

James L. Schumacher, the newest board member, cast the sole dissenting vote. He cited the "intrusive nature" of the towers and said there was no way to minimize the negative impact with buffers or limited hours of operation.

"The applicant didn't prove need," said Mr. Schumacher. "Other sites were not thoroughly investigated. The visual glare from six huge towers so close to homes and the interference detracts from the peaceful enjoyment of homes."

Many opponents submitted pictures of the rolling hills and pristine views.

"You would be hard pressed to find a worse section for towers," said Lee Hurt, a Howard County resident, who lives less than a mile from the farm. "You will erode the tax base in both Howard and Carroll counties and detract from the very essence of the farm heritage and character."

Ms. Hurt, a computer engineer, said interference would extend to a two-mile area east of the site and affect the entire town of Sykesville.

"Interference won't stop at the county line," she said.

From census data, she estimated that about 5,000 homes would experience interference particularly on portable phones.

Kurt Harden of Gaither Road gave the board a petition signed by 142 opponents of the project. He said he was appalled at the programming on the all-talk radio station.

"We are not ready for hot talk here, but we will be forced to listen," he said. "WCBM should stay in an industrial area."

The station countered that filters are available, inexpensive and easy to install on all home appliances.

In the meantime, a newly drafted ordinance, which would limit tower complexes to industrial land, could make the hearing moot. The Carroll County Commissioners expect to vote on the law in about a week. If passed, it could prevent construction of any towers, which do not have a building permit.

"We are now depending on the commissioners to use good judgment to protect the citizens," said Kurt Harden.

William B. Dulany, attorney for the Mercers, called the proposed ordinance "spot zoning in response to protests" from neighbors.

"The Mercers have a right to use the land for purposes not detrimental," said Mr. Dulany. "This use will preserve open space and allow them to live in the country."

The Mercers will retain about five acres and continue to live in their century-old home in front of the towers. Louis Mangione, vice president of the station, said he plans to build the towers across 55 acres and place the remaining land into the Maryland Agricultural Trust. Once operational, the station would tear down its four towers in Owings Mills near Route 795.

The board stipulated several conditions to its approval. WCBM will have to paint the towers and install red flashing lights. It will also have to make timely responses to any interference complaints from neighbors.

"How can they hide 350-foot towers?" asked Hoods Mill Road resident Miriam Thurber, a painter who often uses her backyard for a studio. "I don't want to see towers."

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