Baltimore County

Baltimore County Council again considers cell tower restrictions

Republican Councilman T. Bryan McIntire is again seeking to severely restrict the number and appearance of cellular phone towers in the rural, northern section of Baltimore County, as he approaches his final weeks on the County Council.

McIntire has introduced a bill that would permit such towers only by special exception and prohibit them from projecting above prominent ridges or hilltops. Towers are currently allowed to be as high as 250 feet. Though the bill's opponents argue that height restrictions would increase the number of towers, McIntire said he believes that current technology is sufficient.

"We feel that you can communicate very successfully with present technology and the present number of towers," said McIntire, who has long opposed cellular towers in rural, historic and scenic areas.

The council will vote on the measure next Tuesday. The bill, similar to one that McIntire unsuccessfully sought to have passed in August, would also require the towers to blend into the surrounding areas, such as flagpoles or painted to blend into trees.

Some local community leaders praised the legislation during a council discussion of the issue Tuesday, while representatives from AT&T and Verizon objected.

Patsy Malone, a Baltimore attorney representing Verizon, said she believed the bill directly targets a proposed tower on Belfast Road and Interstate 83 that would be used by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. Verizon previously agreed to disguise the tower and equipment as a silo and barnlike structure. McIntire said the bill would target towers proposed in the future, not the one on Belfast Road.

Malone said the current law provides enough flexibility to accommodate competing interests.

"We feel the current law provides a balance between the interests of the community, the scenic resources and also the carriers in trying to provide service to their customers," Malone said.

The bill would probably lead to more, rather than fewer cell phone towers, said Jason St. John, a Baltimore attorney who represented AT&T.

Restricting the towers' height would compromise different carriers' ability to share space, he said.

"What this bill will do, in these areas where we want to protect the scenic viewshed, is it will create an increase in the number of towers," St. John said. "Height means everything in these installations. The higher you are, the better coverage area that a carrier can have."

However, some residents and local community leaders said the bill would go a long way toward protecting their interests.

"We do not want to see technological sprawl when there is a smart way to distribute these resources and regulate them," said Ruth Goldstein, who spoke on behalf of the Pikesville-Greenspring Community Coalition. "We believe this bill is a very smart solution."

Former county planner Jack Dillon said community groups have been able to find reasonable solutions in the past to cell tower disputes but "only at our insistence and our involvement and at our expense."

"This legislation puts the onus on the cell tower industry to work toward those goals beforehand and try to come to an accommodation that protects these valuable scenic and historic resources," said Dillon, former executive director of the Valleys Planning Council.

McIntire lost the primary election for his seat to Todd Huff, who won the general election last week.