Tower meets standards for safety, Sprint says

Poplar Point residents unconvinced by claim at appeals panel hearing

October 31, 2001|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

A 125-foot Sprint PCS cellular tower in the Edgewater community of Poplar Point meets the county's ice and wind requirements, even though a document attesting to its structural integrity is missing from county records, the company's attorney told the Board of Appeals last night.

But residents seeking to have the communications tower dismantled remained unconvinced and were shocked to learn that the county reviewed and approved plans for a 130-foot tower, yet allowed Sprint to build one of a different height.

"They built a different tower than what was permitted, and now we hear about it," said Winfield Vining, whose home lies within the tower's "topple zone."

Last night, Poplar Point residents began making their case to the county Board of Appeals that the tower should be taken down on the grounds that it is too close to a community recreation area.

Under county zoning law, cellular towers must be placed a distance away from public parks equal to their height. Sprint's tower is less than 80 feet from a field where children play lacrosse and football, said the association. Residents argue that the field meets the definition of a public park.

Residents say the tower has ruined the character of their community and that they are angered by the lack of notification from Sprint. The company built the tower March 1 on commercial property abutting the field, which serves as a picnic spot and playground, and is Poplar Point's only common area.

Sprint maintains that it complied with a 5-year-old county ordinance that regulates tower construction and does not require the notification of owners of adjoining properties when towers are built on commercial land. The tower shares a sliver of property with a repair, storage and sales facility for diesel trucks, and a window-cleaning service.

The absence of the engineering document from county files was first addressed at a Board of Appeals hearing June 12 during which Poplar Point residents protesting the tower had hoped for an order that it be dismantled.

At the hearing, Frederick C. Sussman, one of two lawyers representing the association, said Sprint's building permit application did not include the document attesting to the tower's wind load -- the force of wind it could withstand. Board Chairman Christopher Wilson gave Sprint 48 hours to produce the document.

The document, dated May 10, 2000, was submitted to the county by Sprint on June 14 and provides a highly technical analysis of the tower. The structure is designed to withstand winds up to 80 mph, the document says. The structure is in compliance with county code.

Last night, Michael R, Morel, a structural engineer hired by Sprint to perform the structural analysis, testified that the tower poses "no danger," and that it meets the wind-load requirements of the county code.

Minutes later, Poly Mostakis, commercial plans reviewer with the county Department of Inspections and Permits, said that although the document was not in a file, she remembers reviewing it before signing off on the application.

Asked by James Michal, a Sprint lawyer, to explain how the engineering document might have been lost, Mostakis said that several copies of permit applications are made, and that the document might have been missing from the set the county has on file. "It happens quite often," she said.

When Sussman asked her on cross-examination how she could have remembered reviewing the Sprint file, she said that it stood out because she used to live where the tower was built.

Sprint said it built in Poplar Point as a last alternative because there was no other location that met its needs. Before the tower was erected, Sprint officials have said, customers were losing calls along Solomons Island Road.

Testimony is to resume in February.

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