Council may put hold on antennas 120-day ban sought on cell tower approval in rural Balto. Co.

November 05, 1997|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Responding to complaints from residents about the proliferation of cellular telephone towers, the Baltimore County Council is considering a 120-day halt to the approval of antennas in rural areas.

Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican who sponsored the bill, said he wants to stop approvals until the council can adopt countywide regulations governing the placement of antennas.

"We need to put a hold on it until we can properly regulate it," he said.

Controversy over the towers has erupted across the nation in recent years, driven by the increasing popularity of cellular telephones. In the Baltimore-Washington region, about 1.5 million people -- more than 20 percent of the residents -- use wireless phones, analysts say.

New companies are offering the service, boosting competition -- and the number of antennas. Those companies operate at radio frequencies that travel shorter distances -- requiring antennas to be built closer together.

In the Baltimore region, battles over antenna towers have been fought in West Baltimore, the Towson area, Sykesville and other communities. In one of the most recent fights, a company considered placing a tower at St. Pius X Church south of Towson, but the church rejected the offer of thousands of dollars in rental fees last month after neighbors objected.

McIntire said he was alarmed at the increase in towers in the county's rural areas, especially along Interstate 83, where eight new towers have been proposed within an 11-mile span.

If approved, the moratorium would take effect Dec. 5 and expire April 5.

McIntire conceded that the county's powers are limited in light of federal rules that prohibit localities from thwarting competition among cellular phone companies.

Baltimore County officials estimate the county has 130 cellular antenna sites, and hardly a week passes without another request. Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 15, the county received requests from phone companies to erect 14 cellular towers and place 39 antennas on existing structures.

Most of the antennas generate little controversy. About 4 feet tall, they sit unobtrusively atop Oriole Park at Camden Yards and are attached to the sides of office buildings. Another has been installed in the steeple of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Charles Street.

To avert controversy, some companies are disguising towers as evergreens, palm trees or flagpoles. St. Pius, in the 6400 block of York Road, had considered camouflaging a 100-foot communications pole as a bell tower.

The county planning board, which has been weighing cell tower regulations for months, is scheduled to discuss a proposal tomorrow that would encourage companies to share towers, place antennas in inconspicuous places and disguise them when possible.

The board could send its recommendations to the County Council before the end of the month.

McIntire said he would withdraw his bill, which was introduced Monday night, if industry representatives agree to stop pressing for new towers until the regulations are revised.

County spokesman Michael Davis met with cellular phone company representatives yesterday and said they appear willing to wait on approvals for new antenna sites.

But he cautioned that neither a moratorium nor regulations will mean the defeat of cell towers in the rural areas.

"No matter what we do, there are going to be towers in north county," he said. "But we are trying to do as much as we can."

Pub Date: 11/05/97

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