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Radio towers draw wrath at meeting Commissioners are barraged with questions; Owners' fee suggested; Plan needs approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals


Before a radio station builds six towers on farmland in Carroll County, it will have to reckon with residents who say they don't want their views of the sky altered.

WCBM-AM Radio in Owings Mills in Baltimore County has purchased a 389-acre farm on Hoods Mill Road near Route 97 and the Howard County line, and plans to build six 350-foot towers on about 55 acres at the east end of the property.

"The towers will stretch across an area similar to the South Carroll High School campus," C. Michael Wheeler, an area resident, told about 125 residents of Carroll and Howard counties who met at the school last night.

"You will hear the radio on your TVs and telephones. You will see the strobe lights from your windows," Mr. Wheeler said.

All three County Commissioners attended the meeting and received a barrage of questions from the audience.

Kurt Harden, a Woodbine resident, asked that an impact fee be imposed on the tower owners.

"They want to run a $1 million business out of our back yards and pay [agricultural] taxes on their land," he said.

Taxes on farmland are lower than those on industrial and residential properties.

Soon after signs announcing a hearing on the towers were posted at the Mercer farm, neighborhood groups began their fight against the structures. They sought and won a postponement of a zoning hearing and have been planning their strategy in the three-week interim.

Towers are a conditional use on agricultural land but must receive approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals.

"The BZA has to rule on a narrow legal question of whether there is an adverse impact," said County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, long an opponent of towers in residential areas.

"Carroll County has so little industrial-zoned land and most is along the main roads. The sites with the least impact are in agriculture zones," Mr. Brown said.

Robert Forshey Jr., whose home will be within 2,000 feet of the proposed towers, countered, "This is not the responsible growth you promised your constituents."

Balloons hovering at the same 350-feet height of the towers announced the meeting last night.

"Anybody who could see those balloons should be at the meeting," said Mr. Wheeler, whose property adjoins the Mercer farm.

Harold and Esther Mercer, now retired, plan to continue living in their 200-year-old home on 5 acres of the farm.

"Would we live here with our grandchildren if we thought the towers were harmful?" Ms. Mercer said in an interview last month.

Health issues aside, the towers are incompatible and interfere with residents' "peaceful enjoyment of their homes," Mr. Wheeler said. "Someone wants to put a Coke machine in my Garden of Eden."

The sale is contingent on winning conditional use approval from the zoning board. A hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Tower opponents have hired an attorney who is well-versed in zoning issues and developed 11 major points that they will put forth at the hearing, Mr. Wheeler said.

When he opened the floor to questions, many residents expressed concerns with health issues, radio interference and what advantage Carroll would reap from the project.

"We are dealing with a Baltimore County radio station, which probably can't buy land in Baltimore County to upgrade its signal," said Bill Brigham, a radio engineer. "It will continue to serve the public interest in Baltimore."

Mr. Wheeler urged as many residents as possible to attend the zoning hearing.

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