Sprint PCS tower gets zoning OK

County laws, federal telecommunications act back decision

`Don't have any choice'

Lawyers say it should not affect residents' health, land values

July 27, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Despite strong objections from more than 25 residents, the Carroll County Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously approved yesterday Sprint PCS' plans for a 250-foot telecommunications tower north of Hampstead.

The galvanized steel tower with a shining beacon, to be erected at 3333 Falls Road, is one of eight towers Sprint wants to build in the county's northern area as it expands its digital phone service west of Baltimore.

Neighbors of the proposed site said they are afraid the tower will cause their property values to plummet, endanger their health and compromise the pristine surroundings that drew them to the county.

During a five-hour public hearing, Sprint officials tried to allay those fears, presenting testimony on how the towers do not impact property values or people's health.

The board was ultimately swayed by county laws, which permit the towers on agricultural land.

"This is a conditional use and it is allowed in the zoning ordinance," said board member Hoby Wolf. "I don't have any choice but to be in favor of the project."

Federal law also played a role in the board's decision. The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 declares that the towers are not health hazards and says localities may not prevent a company from delivering service -- meaning that, for example, the county may not reject a proposed tower for environmental reasons.

Wolf expressed his sympathies for the residents, but noted that if he rejected the proposal, it would probably be overturned on appeal. He also said the board was trying to balance the needs of these 25 residents vs. the demands of thousands of mobile phone customers.

But those residents put up a steely, if unsuccessful, resistance to the proposal.

In an emotional plea to the board, Falls Road resident Barbara Kearns complained that the tower would upset the natural beauty of her neighborhood populated by deer, fox squirrels and other animals.

Sean Foley, who is planning to build a home near the tower site, asked the board not to forget the needs of local residents.

"I think the needs of the citizens are more important than seamless [phone] coverage in Carroll County," he said.

Brenda Covey, whose home on Michaels Meadow Drive is less than 400 feet behind the proposed tower site, told the board the tower would destroy the view from her back yard.

"What is it going to do to my property value?" she asked.

Independent appraiser Terrence McPherson tried to answer that question.

In an analysis performed for Sprint, McPherson found that other telecommunications towers had no discernible impact on property values. Some people may not buy a home because it is next to a tower, but just as many, if not more buyers, don't care.

"Based on my analysis, my opinion is that people are becoming more immune to them," McPherson said.

John Maguire, an attorney for Sprint, told residents the towers would bring wireless communication to areas without service now. One benefit will be for ambulance and fire crews, who are without reliable phone communication in some parts of northern Carroll County, he said.

"We tend to focus on the negatives of towers," said Maguire.

He asked them to focus on the positives, too.

Pub Date: 7/27/99

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