In a 3-1 decision, the Howard County Board of Appeals put a green light on a local temple's plan to allow AT&T to install a cellphone tower on its property, ending a months-long process that earned the ire of local residents who said the tower would damage property values.
The opposition — which filed an appeal on behalf of Viram Patel and other residents — plans to file an appeal on the state level. Patel, whose home is near the planned site, said the decision was "an expected disappointment."
"There's not much we can do against the big companies," said Patel, who bought his home at 12320 Scaggsville Road in 1986. "As soon as I wake up, I'll see the tower."
Larry Greenblatt, who spoke on behalf of the opposition, said he was not surprised by the decisions. "AT&T has bullied its way to victory," the Clarksville resident said.
The move allows for a new cellphone tower behind Temple Isaiah, a local synagogue that signed an agreement with AT&T to build a monopole on its property at 12200 Scaggsville Road.
The 160-foot tower has a six-foot lightning rod at its peak. An equipment shelter, a diesel generator and related equipment, surrounded by a 25-by-30 foot fence, would be at its base, according to a decision and order by the hearing examiner.
After deliberating for nearly an hour, chairman James Howard, vice chairwoman Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot and Jim Walsh voted to grant AT&T permission to build at the site, so long as it complied with county regulations.
John Lederer denied the petition partly on the grounds of the tower's looming proximity to Patel's home, saying "I think it's a lot to ask for Mr. Patel."
Walsh sympathized with Patel but said sympathies alone were not enough to rewrite and reinterpet the law.
In past hearings – which spanned over several months — residents said the looming tower would damage property values for the surrounding neighborhoods.
Temple Isaiah's property is zoned rural residential, a classification that allows for communications towers as conditional use, the appeals board indicated.
AT&T says the tower is necessary to expand service.
"This site is necessary to address a gap in phone and data coverage that will occur when AT&T has to relocate equipment from nearby power lines," said AT&T spokesman Daniel Langan in a 2014 statement about the proposal.
On Dec. 11, 2014, the Howard County Board of Appeals Hearing Examiner granted AT&T permission to build the tower in accordance with the law.
In closing arguments, AT&T attorney Greg Rapisarda said the communications company explored all available options for the site, going "above and beyond" to find other owners to lease property for the site and meet county codes.
"The only adverse effect here has to do with visibility," Rapisarda said, making the site no different from development in any other residential zone. "The legal case is clear."
Rapisarda shot down the opposition's argument – which he said rested on faulty technical violations.
Alleging AT&T "blindsided" the community, the opposition challenged that AT&T did not follow county guidelines to have a pre-submission community hearing prior to submitting a petition for use of the property.
Greenblatt argued the site would "stare down" at Patel's home and be clearly visible through his kitchen and bedroom. "What is Mr. Patel supposed to do when … technicians climb this tower and have unobstructed view of the most private of locations?"