Annapolis residents fight cell phone tower at camp

County councilman pushes legislation to prevent more than one tower on protected lands

March 11, 2011|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Annapolis resident Adger Stokes didn't want the first one. But when a cell phone company recently announced intentions to erect a second cell phone tower not far from his home, Stokes and a group of neighbors protested.

Stokes, president of the Preserve at Broad Creek Homeowners Association, appealed the county's decision to allow T-Mobile to build a 130-foot tower near Riva Road, and the case is headed to Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

Now, Councilman Chris Trumbauer has proposed legislation hoping to remedy the issue. Trumbauer's pending legislation would limit the number of cell phone towers allowed on open-space parcels to one for every 10 acres, preventing so-called "cell phone tower farms" in a county that has 242 cell phone towers. If the tower is built, it would be the first in the county to be erected next to an existing tower, which opponents say sets a dangerous precedent.

Representatives from telecommunications giants AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon testified against the legislation at a recent council meeting, saying any limitations on building cell phone towers would prevent the companies from providing optimal service to its wireless customers in Anne Arundel. Following the public hearing, Trumbauer tabled the legislation, hoping to work through issues with the cell phone companies and offer amendments at the council's next meeting.

"As our county continues to develop, it makes sense to really have some robust regulations as to how we're going to locate and develop things," said Trumbauer, an Annapolis Democrat. "As technology continues to grow, we certainly want to accommodate that demand, but let's not leave ourselves open to putting these facilities in the few amounts of open space we have left."

County Executive John R. Leopold has not yet taken a position on the legislation, but the administration says it wants to work with Trumbauer and the cell phone companies to work out the issues.

In 2005, the county granted permission to Cingular Wireless, which is now AT&T, to build a 100-foot tower on the grounds of the Camp Woodlands, a Girl Scouts-run camp. Girl Scout officials say the revenue it receives from the cell phone company to lease the space for the tower helps maintain the camp.

Stokes, who has lived at his home since 1996, said he and other residents initially protested the tower, but got assurances from the cell phone company that it would be the only tower built and it would not rise above the tree line.

But rival T-Mobile now wants to build its own 130-foot tower. The county granted the company permission last June, and the Stokes and the other residents filed a complaint with the Anne Arundel Board of Appeals, which ruled in favor of T-Mobile late last year. Stokes is appealing that decision in county Circuit Court.

At the hearing, a T-Mobile spokeswoman said the company has been responsive to residents' concerns. In the appeals board ruling, company officials said the idea for the tower came following customer complaints about the lack and quality of coverage in the area.

"The goal of erecting an antenna in this area is to eliminate dropped calls and improve in-building coverage," according to the filing.

"We understand the concerns of the neighbors, which is why we located the first tower in a very unobtrusive area of the camp grounds, so it would not hinder the neighbors nor our girls when they come to camp," said Danita Terry, a spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. "Camps are extremely costly to maintain and preserve. We have been using the revenue generated from the cell phone tower to help us offset direct costs to our campers."

Allison Gay, who has lived at her home about 300 feet away from the Girl Scout property for 11 years, said she has several concerns about the towers: the unsightliness, the effect on property values, and safety issues, regarding the potential for a fire and radiation that may be emanating from the tower.

"For the county to decide to put another cell phone tower in this camp, they're setting a precedent on this entire county," Gay said. "If two can go in there, three can go in there, or four or five."

Councilman John J. Grasso said he's not sure if he would support the legislation, because he worries it could hurt the cell phones companies' revenues — and in turn affect the county, which earns its own revenues from cell phone use.

"You have to think about the money," said Grasso, a Republican from Glen Burnie. "No one's going to want one of these things in their backyard. But with the economy the way it is, the county really needs it."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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