Many say they barely notice new tower

But some maintain the structure scars historic district

November 19, 2001|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Look into the hills above historic Ellicott City. See anything new?

"No," said Bill Hoffman as he walked down Ellicott City's Main Street.

What about that 340-foot-high emergency radio tower over there?

Hoffman, a 50-year-old Ellicott City resident, strained to look at the structure, which recently was installed on the grounds of Howard County District Court above historic Main Street.

"Oh, that," he said. "Barely noticed it."

Hoffman isn't alone. The contentious tower seemingly has blended into the background on Main Street since it was installed a couple of weeks ago. Many area residents say they barely notice the gray structure, especially during the day, when it tends to blend in with the sky.

"Where is it?" asked Peter Lee of Ellicott City, spinning around on the sidewalk as he searched for the tower last week.

But some preservationists maintain the tower scars the historic district, especially in residential areas above historic Main Street.

"I'm still very bitter about the decision," said Sally Bright, a historic district activist. "It's still so terrible looking."

The tower had been at the center of a lively debate for nearly 17 months. Some preservationists have argued that the structure would harm historic Ellicott City's appeal, while others said the tower would not affect Ellicott City and would improve radio coverage throughout the county.

Firefighters had trouble communicating during a devastating fire November 1999 in the historic district because of poor radio reception.

The project was delayed in February when the Federal Communications Commission determined that the state had not followed federal processes concerning historic properties and radio towers. In September, the FCC said the tower would not affect Ellicott City and allowed construction to begin.

Since the tower has been built, a complaint has been lodged about temporary lights that were not shielded, but the problem was corrected the next day and the complaint was retracted, according to James M. Irvin, the county public works director.

Irvin added that he was not surprised that the controversy about the tower has seemingly died down.

"That's sort of a common phenomena with towers," he said. "Once the tower goes up, the issues tend to fade away."

Even though the tower leaps out to Fred Dorsey as he drives down Main Street, he can understand why some people gaze past it. "It's possible I wouldn't have noticed if I wasn't involved in the fight," said Dorsey, vice president of Preservation Howard County, a group that opposed the tower. "But to me, it's still an eye-catcher."

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