Owens visits Poplar Point home near cellular tower

Executive vows support for residents concerned about 130-foot structure

April 03, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

The Vinings knew things were off to a good start yesterday when County Executive Janet S. Owens stepped through their front door, saw a poster protesting cellular phone towers and commented, "I like the sign."

So began an hourlong visit by Owens to the Edgewater community of Poplar Point where she listened and pledged support to residents upset about a 130-foot cellular tower that they say has destroyed the character of their scenic community.

Owens' visit occurred four days after she told Planning and Zoning Officer Denis D. Canavan and Inspections and Permits Director Walter Chitwood to review the laws governing tower location and recommend changes within 60 days. Owens said of particular concern is an ordinance that does not require cellular carriers or zoning officials to notify owners of adjoining property when towers are built on commercially zoned land.

Sprint maintains that it complied with requirements of the 5-year-old ordinance when it built the tower on a commercial property that abuts Poplar Point's only common area - an open field that serves as a picnic spot and playground. The tower shares the same sliver of commercial property as a truck repair, storage and sales facility and a window-cleaning service.

"We will abide by any changes they recommend, and we are happy to lend our insider views if requested," Sprint spokesman Larry McDonnell said. "We've always followed the law and will continue to do so."

Owens' midday visit was in response to an invitation from Winfield Vining. Vining, his wife, Pia, and their 2-year-old son live closest to the tower. He sent a letter to Owens' office March 15 expressing outrage over what he called the "inadequacies of current zoning regulations." He invited Owens to "witness this absurdity."

In the letter, Vining, a real estate salesman, said: "I believe any intelligent person who sees this situation firsthand would be appalled." He invited Owens to stand on his backyard deck to see his son's swing set clearly within the "topple zone" of the tower, less than 90 feet from his property line.

"This is terrible," Owens said yesterday as she stood on the deck in a chilly wind. "[Sprint] certainly met the letter of the law, but certainly didn't meet the spirit of it."

The law, hailed as a model when it was adopted, encouraged cellular carriers to share towers and to put them on commercially and industrially zoned properties instead of residential zones.

Owens said the community's situation was brought to her attention by her husband who pointed out an article in The Sun.

The Poplar Point Community Association has asked the county Board of Appeals to order the tower taken down on the grounds that it is too close to the community recreation area, which the association argues meets the definition of a public park. Under county zoning law, cell towers must be their height away from public parks. The Sprint tower is less than 80 feet from a field where children play lacrosse and football, according to the association, making it more than 50 feet too close. A hearing is scheduled for June 12.

Owens said that perhaps the county could participate in the hearing as a "friend of the community." She urged residents to present a strong case to the appeals board, and told them to enlist the help of elected officials.

"Is there any other advice you could offer us?" association board member Skip Shipman said.

She turned, and, referring to Sprint, said: "You've got to be aggressive with these folks."

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