Baltimore County Council considers cell, wind towers Monday

Towers — of the wind and cell varieties — will likely dominate discussion at the Monday meeting of the Baltimore County Council.

Members will consider a pilot wind energy program that could give Baltimore County officials time to evaluate how those alternative systems work, what effect wind towers have on surrounding areas and what they might look like. The bill would create a pilot program to test small wind energy systems for use in manufacturing or rural areas.

While cell towers are vital in ensuring that drivers and residents can get reception along the county's scenic byways, officials want to limit or at least disguise the structures in less developed areas. That bill would allow cell towers in a rural zone only by special exception and only if the structures do not rise above prominent ridges and hilltops.

Both issues are to come to a vote at the council legislative session Monday.

After months of study and lengthy public debate, the seven-member council will decide whether to approve a five-year pilot to determine whether the county is blustery enough to support larger-scale wind generation.

The bill would limit commercial and institutional sites to small wind systems — typically a single turbine mounted on a tower or building. Free-standing systems could be built only in rural and manufacturing zones not adjacent to residential areas.

"Obviously, we have to get away from use of fossil fuels," said Councilman Vince Gardina, sponsor of the bill. "This pilot program gives us time to put this project in place."

Opponents said noise and aesthetics are the most troubling aspects of wind-power development, which several surrounding counties have permitted or are considering.

Several residents complained during a council work session Tuesday that they have not been given enough input into the approval process, which they called ambiguous. The county has held several public hearings on the issue.

"We have [agricultural] land and institutional land next to our residences," said Cheryl Aaron, representing the Greater Greenspring Association.

She said the bill does not specify whether turbines can operate near those housing developments.

Kathleen House, a Cockeysville resident, asked the council to revisit the bill before "rural areas are ruined."

"The decibel levels are way too high," she said. "We need protection for our scenic view sheds and byways."

Many others, including wind industry experts, attested to the success of the technology and asked the county to at least allow the pilot program. The first step would be a yearlong wind measurement to collect data and determine if enough wind exists to drive the turbines. The bill also addresses safety, lighting and appearance requirements.

Alan Cohen of Oella said, "Baltimore County will be left behind if it doesn't allow even a limited pilot program. Give wind power a chance."

William Barnes, an Army veteran of the Gulf War, said Americans have become too accustomed to high-level energy consumption.

"Think about the soldiers sacrificing in Afghanistan and the complaints from people who don't want a turbine 300 feet from their property," he said. "Who has got the worst deal?"

The council will also consider a bill to limit telecommunications towers in the county's rural areas.

"The more you can push back cell towers, the better," House said.

Residents said they would support designs that minimized or camouflaged the visual impacts of the towers and the installation of equipment on existing towers.

"The camouflaged facility shall blend into the surrounding area in a manner consistent with community character and existing development," according to the bill, sponsored by Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who represents the northern areas of the county.

"The bill reasonably accommodates two competing interests," said Jeffrey Utermohle, an attorney representing several residents. "It promotes reasonable placement of cell towers and preserves local zoning authority."

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