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6 radio towers on way near Sykesville Hearing Sept. 28 on WCBM-AM quest for zoning approval


Six 350-foot radio towers soon could soon overlook the Sykesville area if WCBM-AM wins approval from Carroll County zoning officials to build on a 55-acre parcel in southern Carroll.

Nicholas Mangione, a Howard County developer who owns Owings Mills station and Turf Valley Golf and Country Club near Ellicott City, needs conditional-use approval to construct the towers on agricultural land. The Carroll County Board of Zoning Appeals will hear the case Sept. 28.

The property -- part of a 389-acre farm of which Mr. Mangione plans to buy all but five acres -- is a little more than a mile west of Sykesville, where town officials and residents have battled against the construction of a 200-foot telecommunications tower for nearly two years. The town has appealed the case to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

"A 350-foot tower will be visible from Timbuktu," said Matthew H. Candland, the Sykesville town manager.

Howard, meanwhile, has had its share of communications tower problems. On Sept. 5, new zoning rules went into effect that officials in the county hoped would steer cellular companies toward commercial properties and encourage them to mount their antennas on existing towers, buildings and water storage tanks.

Howard has 30 communications towers and poles, ranging from 30 to 500 feet tall, with most in the 100- to 250-foot range. Several are being considered for zoning exceptions.

Under the rules approved in July by the Howard County Council, companies wouldn't need to go through a lengthy approval process if they built towers no more than 200 feet tall on property zoned commercial or rural.

In Carroll, the proposed WCBM-AM tower would be built on land that 60-year-old Harold Mercer has farmed on Hoods Mill Road for most of his life.

"The towers will be on the back of the property and separated from us by a lot of trees," said 60-year-old Harold Mercer Mr. Mercer. "We have no fear of the towers. We wouldn't let anything destroy the neighborhood." Mr. Mercer and his wife will continue living in the 200-year-old home on the property.

William B. Dulany, the attorney for Mr. Mercer, plans to meet this week with neighbors of the proposed project in an effort to defuse opposition.

An agreement between the county and its eight municipalities requires Carroll to keep town officials apprised of projects in their planning areas. The WCBM plans arrived in Sykesville's Town House Thursday, but the town Planning Commission cannot meet to review them until after the zoning appeals board hearing, Mr. Candland said.

Each tower must be at least 550 feet from any dwelling, according to the county's tower ordinance, which was adopted last year. There are no regulations for how far one tower must be from another, however. County officials said the towers would have to be equipped with flashing aircraft warning lights.

Lynne Dugan, a Hoods Mill Road resident for six years, said she wouldn't t object to radio towers near her home.

"They are not a nuisance, won't generate traffic or need more public utilities," she said. "They may be unsightly, but they are necessary."

Harold Paine, a member of the South Carroll Citizens Committee, said he and 32 owners of land adjoining the proposed site will oppose the structures.

"Number one, they certainly will screw up the landscape," Mr. Paine said. "We absolutely don't want them here."

Although the citizens group is fresh from winning a fight against a proposed county-run shooting range, members acknowledge that opposing WCBM may prove more difficult.

"Here, you're dealing with private landowners, not politicians," Mr. Paine said.

Dan Hughes, a founder of Solutions for a Better South Carroll, another group of community activists, said Friday that the tower proposal is symptomatic of what's wrong with the way the county is developing.

"They're fresh off fighting a gun range, and now they find out about this," Mr. Hughes said. "It's almost never-ending. I wish them luck, but by the time the public finds out about these things, it's almost always too late."

Joseph C. LaVerghetta, WCBM's attorney, said he is prepared for opposition to the project.

"We chose the property because it fits in with our engineering demands," he said.

"Our market has migrated," said Mr. LaVerghetta. "We can't even reach Timonium and Cockeysville now."

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