Battle over cellphone towers continues in western Howard

The Howard County Board of Appeals, already fighting T-Mobile in court over the location of a cellphone tower planned for a church property, is scheduled Thursday to hear the company's bid for another western Howard location on a small farm.

T-Mobile wants to build a 127-foot-tall tower on Daisy Road in Woodbine. Residents have expressed concerns, speaking out at a community meeting in April, complaining about aesthetics and questioning the need for more cell towers.


The site is one of about a half-dozen where T-Mobile has proposed placing towers in western Howard County. The company has struggled to secure permissions, meeting neighborhood opposition at both publicly and privately owned sites.

The Board of Appeals rejected a proposed location in Glenwood, which is the subject of a lawsuit in federal court.

"We have several different locations in Howard County and Maryland to try and expand to ensure the best coverage possible," said T-Mobile spokesman Jason Campbell. He said the company tries to use existing facilities but has had to build more towers because of "unprecedented demand [for wireless service] over the last 10 years."

T-Mobile sued the Board of Appeals in March over a location on Burntwoods Road, which is several miles from the proposed site on Daisy Road. The company argues in court papers that it "has a significant gap in its ability to provide wireless service in the area."

In its complaint, T-Mobile says the board "ignores evidence demonstrating that T-Mobile made a diligent effort" to place the proposed facilities on government property or in nonresidential areas, where the county zoning law seeks to steer cell towers. The company contends that the board unfairly denied T-Mobile's application.

The company had sought a conditional-use permit in November 2009. The board denied the request, saying T-Mobile did not meet zoning rules that require it to find alternative sites that would be minimally disruptive to the community.

Howard County officials declined to comment, but in recently filed court papers they denied the company's claims, saying the board's decision "is supported by substantial evidence" and that its decision "does not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless service."

In its lawsuit, T-Mobile contends that it sought out "the only potential government-owned property — Glenelg High School," but received a negative response from the county public school system. T-Mobile said it also investigated an existing ham radio facility, which the company ruled out for structural reasons.

The company contends that it used "sophisticated computer programs and extensive scientific field testing to complete propagation studies that show where cell sites need to be located in order to provide service."

But residents have opposed nearly every proposal for more towers. In March, about 75 people spoke against another proposed T-Mobile tower on a farm in Dayton. At a community meeting in April on the Daisy Road site, several residents complained.

"I guess you have to have these things someplace, but most people are opposed. We didn't move out to western Howard County to look at a pole," resident J. Michael Lane said at the meeting. "We will be fighting it every step of the way."

The Howard County Board of Appeals begins hearing cases at 6:30 p.m. in the George Howard Building, 3430 Courthouse Drive inEllicott City.