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Zoning decisions on phone tower, synagogue school challenged


The losers of recent Howard County Board of Appeals decisions involving the construction of a cellular phone tower and schooling at an Orthodox synagogue have filed challenges in Howard Circuit Court.

In the cellular phone case, Ellicott City resident Anne D. Lukiewski has appealed the board's Jan. 10 decision to permit Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems Inc. to build a 125-foot tower for its Cellular One phone system on Rogers Avenue near Pataps

co Middle School.

Southwestern Bell has maintained that the cellular phone tower will not harm anyone and is essential for adequate coverage along Interstate 70. An expert testified before the board that the tower would have a "negligible" effect on students and area residents.

But Ms. Lukiewski and other area residents argued in 13 hours of hearings last fall that the tower might send out harmful radiation to their homes and the nearby school.

The board, while acknowledging the parents' concerns, dismissed what it called their "unsubstantiated fears," saying that "no evidence was submitted to conclusively establish that long-term exposure to the low levels of RF [radio frequency] energy from the special exception use poses a health hazard" to neighborhood children.

The appeal, which was filed Feb. 9, does not cite any specific reasons why the board's decision should be overturned.

In an interview, Ms. Lukiewski said that she and other area residents do not believe that the board gave adequate consideration to the potential health hazards.

"To me, inconclusive does not mean that it's been proven safe. It means they don't know," she said. "It's like asbestos and silicon. At the time you didn't know of any risk, but you find out years later how dangerous it was.

"We don't feel it's worth the odds to put it right next to a school. We're not opposed to cellular phones, but we don't feel that next to a school is the place to put the tower," she said.

To proceed with the appeal, Ms. Lukiewski must raise $1,275 by March 9 so she can provide the court with a transcript of last year's hearings. No date has been set for an initial hearing.

An appeal also was filed Feb. 1 in court by Lubavitch of Howard County Inc. challenging the board's Jan. 17 order prohibiting the county's only Orthodox synagogue from teaching first-graders.

The dispute stems from a 1989 zoning exception granted by the Board of Appeals permitting the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education in Hickory Ridge to teach up to 30 preschool students.

Neighbors of the center complained last year that the religious school was violating the zoning exception because it had advertised that it was accepting first-grade students and because two of its 24 students were first-graders.

After being asked by the county Department of Planning and Zoning to clarify the 1989 decision, the board ruled that first-graders were not permitted at the school. To teach first-graders, the center would have to seek a separate zoning exception for private schools.

The center has maintained that the 1989 zoning exception did not specifically prohibit first-graders, provided that the school's enrollment did not exceed 30 students.

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