Commissioners frustrate Sprint towers opponents

Suggestion to form citizens' review panel is denied

February 02, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners dealt a harsh blow yesterday to opponents of the three telecommunications towers Sprint PCS proposes to build around Westminster.

Opponents asked the commissioners last summer to form a citizens' panel to review construction plans and to notify property owners within a one-mile radius of public hearings on the towers. The county notifies owners of adjoining properties.

During a work session on new regulations for telecommunications towers, the commissioners refused to grant those requests. However, they agreed to require communications companies to pay for independent studies to prove each tower is necessary.

That decision did little to appease opponents, who fear the Sprint towers will harm their property values.

Sprint will not be subject to an independent study because the new regulations only apply to towers proposed after Sept. 1, 1999.

The commissioners have said it would be unfair to change regulations in the middle of the application process.

Two members of Homeowners Advocating Responsible Tower Siting who attended yesterday's work session said they were disappointed.

"We have concerns about whether the [Sprint] towers are necessary, whether their placement is appropriate and whether they will have an adverse impact on our property values," said Jill Rosner, a vocal critic of the towers.

Sprint would like to build three towers to provide wireless telephone service to local customers.

An independent consultant found that the company could place antennae on water towers and other existing structures instead of building the towers.

A public hearing on the structures is expected to be held before the Board of Zoning Appeals this month.

Under county laws, a company that wants to build a tower must exhaust all alternative sites before it can win approval. However, that restriction might be lifted when the law is revised.

The commissioners said they would like the law to allow construction of the towers if alternatives pose "an unreasonable impact on an applicant's plan to provide service."

An alternative could be deemed unreasonable, they said, if it is cost prohibitive or causes structural damage to existing buildings.

"The language they're proposing leaves the door wide open to telecommunications companies," Rosner said.

The commissioners are expected to revisit the issue next week.

Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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