WCBM rejected on radio towers Commissioners OK bill limiting antennas to industrial land

November 28, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners approved an ordinance yesterday restricting clusters of communications towers to industrial land, a move that effectively kills a six-tower project proposed by WCBM-AM Radio for a South Carroll farm.

The Owings Mills radio station has faced stiff opposition from neighbors of its proposed tower site on Hoods Mill Road near Route 97 and the Howard County line.

WCBM Vice President Louis Mangione had planned to build six 350-foot radio towers on about 55 acres of a 400-acre farm owned by Harold and Esther Mercer.

The commissioners' 2-to-1 vote halted the project, which had received approval of the county Board of Zoning Appeals less than two weeks ago. The action also strengthened a year-old ordinance that blocked a proposed telecommunications tower in Sykesville.

"We moved swiftly and haven't put the county or the applicant in the position of acting at the last minute," said Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown. "The applicant hasn't gone to great unnecessary lengths in pursuing this."

Joseph C. LaVerghetta, WCBM's attorney, said he was not surprised by the decision. "We will see what actions are available to us and what steps we will take," he said.

County attorney George A. Lahey said, "Probably the only action they can do now is challenge the ordinance in court. The ordinance makes the BZA decision moot, and the project cannot go to the Planning Commission."

The zoning approval, granted Nov. 16 after three days of testimony, was the first step in a lengthy process that could have allowed the station to move its operations from Baltimore County to Carroll.

"The commissioners' job is not necessarily to decide what is best for the applicant or the opponent, but what is best for the common good of the county," Mr. Brown said. "The common interest we all share here is this county is not for sale to the highest bidder."

Donald I. Dell, who cast the dissenting vote, called the ordinance "another assault on the landowners who want to capitalize on their property."

Mr. Mercer, lifelong owner of the 400-acre farm, said he has tried to sell the property since he retired two years ago. The WCBM offer was his first, he said.

Mr. Dell said filling "scarce industrial land" with radio towers would waste county resources.

"The ordinance clearly states where tower farms are appropriate," said Mr. Brown. "The overriding issue is where they are appropriate."

Mr. Dell also criticized the timing of the ordinance, drafted as the zoning hearing began.

"Changing in the middle of the approval process and making an ordinance retroactive is not a fair way to govern," he said.

Mr. Mercer also asked how the county can change a law once the approval process has begun.

"I wouldn't have signed the contract had I known this would happen," he said. "I know the station has spent a lot of time and money on this project."

Commissioner Richard T. Yates cited the covenants neighbors signed when they bought nearby building lots from Mr. Mercer several years ago. The restrictions included "no annoyances or nuisances to the neighborhood."

"The people who bought those homes have a right to ask Mr. Mercer not to put any annoyances near their property," said Mr. Yates.

Jerry Thurber, a neighbor of the Mercer farm, said the amendment shows a response to citizens' concerns.

"If you allow residential growth, you had better listen to the people coming here to make their homes," said Mr. Thurber, a Carroll resident for 23 years. "Mr. Mercer has rights, but so do I. He shouldn't be allowed to do something that would adversely affect neighbors' property values."

C. Michael Wheeler, who helped organize neighborhood opposition, said counties and cities across the country are passing legislation to counteract towers.

"Right now there are no less than 20 counties on the Internet asking others to share their tower ordinances," said Mr. Wheeler, the owner of a satellite technologies company.

"The commissioners are setting a precedent now," he said. "If towers don't belong here, then we don't need them here. If we don't take care, the whole area could become an antenna farm."

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