Tower moratorium bill might be withdrawn Voluntary cooperation may satisfy councilmen

December 01, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A bill to impose a four-month moratorium on cellular telephone towers in rural areas of Baltimore County may be withdrawn by its sponsor before a scheduled vote on the measure tonight by the County Council.

The sponsor, T. Bryan McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican, said he may withdraw the bill because even the threat of a vote has already achieved much of what he wants from the burgeoning communication business -- voluntary cooperation with the Ruppersberger administration while permanent regulations are considered.

The county wants companies to delay putting up new towers and work through a new government committee in an effort to erect as many antennas as possible on the fewest possible huge poles. Federal law prohibits local governments from banning the towers outright.

"The deciding factor for me is if [the companies] cooperate, I'll withdraw it," McIntire said. He plans to consult his six fellow council members today before making a final decision.

The debate is a national one, as more people buy and use cellular telephones, and newer companies push to enroll more customers while using radio frequencies that travel shorter distances.

Cellular companies have 130 antenna sites around the county, but none in part of the battleground that would be affected by McIntire's bill -- the Interstate 83 corridor north of Hunt Valley -- according to county information and technology director William Bond.

Because rural areas have few tall structures, the companies want to erect large towers to hold antennas and eliminate areas where service is poor.

"If you can get them to co-locate, you can build one [tower], not three," Bond said. Eight new towers, some up to 200 feet high, are proposed for an 11-mile stretch along I-83, Bond said.

The Ruppersberger administration thinks imposing a moratorium would send a negative message to business, which the county wants to attract.

"We're trying to create a positive business attitude," County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said Friday, explaining that he's mediating in a situation where federal law says the towers can't be barred.

Michael H. Davis, his spokesman and chief policy aide, said meetings with the companies have produced voluntary agreements to hold off on new towers while the county drafts a bill to regulate locations and gets its new committee functioning.

"We've sort of stopped everything right now," he said.

Still, the negotiations are not enough to satisfy some community activists whose distrust of private, verbal agreements between business and government puts pressure on the council to act.

"There's nothing in writing and nothing we can sink our teeth into," said Louis W. Miller, zoning coordinator for the Greater Timonium Community Council.

He and North County Coalition President Richard W. McQuaid said community groups haven't had time to study the proposal being drafted by the Ruppersberger administration -- a law recommended to the council Nov. 20 by the county planning board that would require a special zoning exception and a public hearing for towers in residential or rural areas.

A County Council public hearing on that proposal is scheduled for Dec. 15 -- not enough time for citizen groups to study a bill and meet to vote on it, they say. Community group members also complain that the proposed advisory committee would exclude the public and would have no real authority.

"They're ramming it down people's throats. I would certainly favor a moratorium," Miller said. McQuaid also strongly favors the moratorium -- but one that would cover the entire county, he said.

"McIntire hasn't the courage of his convictions. He'll just cave in," McQuaid said.

The county also faces pressure from the businesses.

John P. Evans, an attorney for American Personal Communications of Bethesda, suggested that the companies would take action to oppose even a temporary ban, which he said would be a "profound anti-competitive barrier" to newer operators in the business.

Pub Date: 12/01/97

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