County planning board endorses new limits on cell phone towers Structures would be restricted near homes

November 21, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Seeking to quiet an uproar in many residential neighborhoods, Baltimore County's planning board endorsed tougher restrictions on cellular phone towers yesterday.

The board's recommendation to the County Council tries to nudge cell phone companies to cluster their antennas on existing structures and to limit new towers in residential areas.

"I think cell towers are with us," county planning director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller said after the unanimous vote. "Hopefully, not as many, though, and in the right places."

Some community leaders were skeptical.

"I think it's a frivolous change. The teeth aren't there," complained Louis W. Miller, zoning coordinator for the Greater Timonium Community Council.

Neighborhood complaints have been growing as the towers multiply. Eight have been proposed along an 11-mile span of Interstate 83, and the county received requests for 14 towers and 39 antennas for existing buildings between Jan. 1 and Oct. 15.

County officials can't ban the towers, because federal laws protect the industry. Officials are using bureaucratic devices designed to limit or camouflage the 200-foot high poles.

The board's proposal calls for special zoning exceptions that would require public hearings for any cell tower proposed in residential, rural or office-commercial areas.

Before applying for an exemption, a cell phone company would have to work with a new county Tower Review Committee of government and citizen members, which would evaluate the proposal and make sure no alternative location is available.

Before building a tower, the company would also have to post a cash bond to guarantee the structure could be removed if abandoned.

The controversy moves to the county council. The council is considering a 120-day moratorium on all new tower approvals pending a vote on the board's recommendation.

In other action, the board continued to struggle with proposals to restrict home-based businesses.

There's general agreement that current laws -- under which a person using a fax machine and computer at home is violating zoning regulations -- need changing.

But the county's attempt to regulate the businesses by neighborhood impact instead of by specific occupation has caused prolonged debate.

Proposed rules for so-called "minor impact" businesses are in some ways stricter than current laws.

Businesses with no visitors would be allowed anywhere. But those with one, two or three workers would only be allowed in residential and rural areas where no more than two houses per acre are permitted.

The board last night was told an informational meeting with home business owners and community group leaders would be Dec. 11 to refine the concept.

"We're trying to create something workable here," said Douglas Brookman, the board member leading the home occupation discussion. "We invite the community to help us."

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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