Verizon Wireless has been given permission to put up a new cell phone tower up to 87 feet tall in rural northern Baltimore County, but only if it is disguised as a silo, not a pine tree as originally proposed. A lawyer for a group opposing the tower said he expects to appeal the ruling.
In a 16-page decision released Wednesday, County Zoning Commissioner William J. Wiseman III wrote that he was not persuaded by opponents' arguments that the proposed pine tree tower would hurt property values or scenic views in the Sparks-Glencoe area, but this was one of those occasions when he "must choose an alternative that seems, not right, but simply less wrong."
He granted the "special exception" for the tower on land owned by Richard Lehnert in a field near Belfast Road and Interstate 83 if it is built to look like a silo "painted in a brick or terra cotta color."
Lehnert said he was unhappy years ago with the proposal for a silo design, which he considers more conspicuous than the pine tree.
"It's going to stand out," said Lehnert. "What you've got is a sore thumb sticking up. Look around here and try to find me an 80-foot silo."
The "pine tree" proposal was opposed by neighbors and by the Valleys Planning Council Inc., a preservation group. The organization's lawyer in the case, Richard C. Burch, said he was "disappointed that any cell tower in any form, disguised or otherwise" had been approved. He added that a silo "at first blush ... does look less hideous than the stealth monopine."
Asked about the next step, he said he considered it "more likely than not an appeal will be pursued."
The council's executive director, Teresa Moore, said she had not seen the ruling Wednesday, but she said her group originally opposed a 120-foot silo tower, and the 87-foot version also seemed beyond the bounds of what you would commonly see on local farms. She said there is one cell phone tower "silo" in the area the council represents, but that one is about 40-feet tall - closer to the height of real silos in the county.
As of the fall, there were 504 cell tower locations in the county, including one built into a chimney, another in a church steeple and one masquerading as a flagpole. The pine tree proposed by Verizon in this case would have been the county's first in that design.