The county Board of Appeals will allow an Odenton company to build a 250-foot cellular phone tower in Crofton next to a proposed athletic complex.
In a decision released Friday, the board voted 6-1 to grant West Shore Communications Inc. an exception to build a lattice tower on 2 acres off Route 424 next to the Arundel Volunteer Fire Department, overturning a county hearing officer's decision.
The land is zoned for agricultural and residential use, and the tower is considered a public utility.
In a 17-page decision, board members said they found the tower was necessary to plug gaps in cellular phone coverage in the area. The company intends to rent tower space to companies such as Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems, Cellular One and American Personal Communication.
County hearing officer Robert C. Wilcox rejected West Shore's proposal in January, ruling that the tower would harm the development of an eight-field Crofton athletic complex, which is being planned on an adjacent parcel.
The board held that the tower would not endanger nearby residents because the level of electromagnetic signals it would emit are lower than other nearby common uses. The tower would be strong enough to withstand high winds, the board said.
Nearby residents who oppose the tower fear it could buckle in high winds, but an engineer testified during the board's hearing that the tower would be built to withstand wind speeds of 80 mph and said he had never known a tower to topple, according to the decision.
That did not satisfy the opponents, who also worried that children would climb the tower and perhaps hurt themselves and that the construction might interfere with the water table in local wells and with planning for the athletic fields.
"I still believe it's not a good place to put a 250-foot tower," said Crofton Civic Association President Edwin F. Dosek. "I can understand it needs to be done. . . but I think there are other antenna sites to fill a gap."
County Recreation and Parks Director Joseph Cannon said his department is not concerned about the tower. Work on the fields is to begin in the fall of 1996 and be completed in 1998.
The county zoning code, drafted in 1967, predates cellular phone technology. The law does not specifically deal with cellular phone towers, but officials include them with public utilities.
A bill submitted this month by county councilman and Crofton resident John Klocko would include commercial telecommunications towers and antennas in the county zoning law.
His bill would permit the towers as an exception in residential, maritime, deferred development and open space districts. A tower would be permitted as a conditional use in commercial and industrial districts.