Tighter Carroll tower rules proposed

Would not affect plans by Sprint PCS to improve its cell phone coverage

Regional News

November 30, 1999|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Hoping to control the proliferation of telecommunications towers in Carroll, the county commissioners proposed new regulations yesterday that would place limits on the structures near airports, improve public notification and require communications companies to pay for an independent study to prove that each tower is necessary.

County officials drafted the proposals in response to Sprint PCS's push to build six 250-foot galvanized steel towers near Westminster and in the northern part of the county.

Many residents objected to the proposed towers, fearing they would hurt their property values, endanger their health and destroy the county's rural atmosphere. The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 says towers are not health hazards, and that localities may not prevent a company from delivering service.

The tougher laws proposed yesterday would have no impact on Sprint's proposed towers. The new regulations would apply to towers proposed after Sept. 1 this year. Sprint's proposals were submitted to the county before that date. Three have won approval, and three are pending.

"They are going to close the barn door after the horses are out," said Jill Rosner, a member of Homeowners Advocating Responsible Tower Siting, a grass-roots organization that led the fight for the new tower regulations.

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier defended the timing of the proposals, saying that to do otherwise would be unfair to Sprint.

"We shouldn't change the rules in the middle of the game," she said.

Hearings on the three remaining towers proposed by Sprint have been postponed until January. The county has paid for an independent study, expected to be released this week, to ensure the towers are necessary at those locations, Frazier said.

Under the proposals released yesterday, three major changes would be made to the county's laws on telecommunications towers:

Applicants would be required to hire an independent firm, chosen by Carroll County, to analyze the proposed tower location. For the tower to be approved, the study must find that a telecommunication antenna could not be located on an existing structure, such as a building, silo or water tower.

All towers proposed near airports must comply with federal laws and with height limits outlined on a map showing various aircraft approaches to Carroll County Regional Airport.

The public must be notified of a proposed tower at least 60 days before a hearing. Under current law, the public must be notified 15 days before a hearing. Changes have also been proposed to increase the number of adjacent property owners who would be notified about a proposed tower.

The commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed changes next month.

Members of HARTS said they were pleased with the proposals, but they noted the commissioners did not address their requests to create a tower review committee, notify all property owners within a one-mile radius of a proposed site and enforce tougher regulations near airports.

The commissioners said those proposals are unnecessary. Notifying every homeowner within a one-mile radius could take in entire towns, creating a burden for the county and applicant, they said. A review committee is not needed when just a few tower applications trickle in every year, the commissioners said.

Commissioners agreed the proposed regulations would protect the interests of airports. And the Board of Zoning Appeals, which approves the towers, would look out for airplanes' safety.

John T. Maguire II, a Westminster attorney representing Sprint, said resistance to the towers is not unusual.

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