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Radio towers under scrutiny County officials weigh WCBM-AM proposal, amending ordinance


While the county Board of Zoning Appeals considered radio towers on a Sykesville farm yesterday, the Carroll County commissioners were amending a year-old ordinance that would limit "tower clusters" to industrial land.

WCBM-AM radio has an option to buy the 400-acre farm on Hoods Mill Road, near Route 97 and the Howard County line. The station, which no longer can serve its listeners from its four towers in Owings Mills, plans to build six 350-foot steel towers on about 55 acres.

The sales contract, signed July 26 by farm owners Esther and Harold Mercer, is contingent on the station obtaining a conditional use from the zoning board.

The new amendment, scheduled for a public hearing Nov. 13, would prohibit multiple towers in agriculture areas and effectively call a halt to the WCBM project, which has not received site plan approval, said Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown.

"The ordinance is an attempt to micromanage their own board of appeals," said William B. Dulany, attorney for the property owners and the radio station.

The proposed legislation, advertised in local newspapers yesterday, also would double the minimum setback, which is now the height of a tower plus 200 feet. The WCBM towers would be within about 700 feet of the Mercers' home.

"These towers would have to be 900 feet from any existing structure," said Mr. Dulany. "There is no industrial zone in the county which could accommodate them."

Commissioner Brown said the hearing yesterday and the amendment are not connected.

"The revision to the ordinance is necessary irregardless of how this case proceeds," said the commissioner.

About 100 people crowded into a room that could accommodate about half that number early yesterday. Although the board added a row of seats, many people stood during the daylong hearing, which will continue Nov. 9 and 10, if necessary.

Mr. Mercer, who plans to remain in his home on about 5 acres of the property, said the towers will be behind his residence.

"Once you don't stare at the towers, you don't see them," he said. "We still see the tower in Cooksville and that's three miles away," said his neighbor, Robert Forshey Jr.

Residents frequently questioned witnesses on tower lighting, health and safety issues and radio interference.

"This is an educated, sophisticated group, who asked a lot of questions," said Louis Mangione, chief operating officer at WCBM. "Fortunately, we had all the answers."

Glen Clark, a consulting engineer, testified for three hours.

"It is not technically possible at any price to make the signal reach western sites from the Owings Mills location," said Mr. Clark. "Money was not an issue. It was can we find something that suits our criteria."

His communications company had reviewed property on Fanny Dorsey Road and at the now-closed Hoods Mill landfill before choosing the Mercer farm as the best site for the station, Mr. Clark said.

Each tower would have either strobe or red flashing lights at the top and several lights at other heights, Mr. Clark said. Eight-foot fences would surround each tower as well as the perimeter of the cluster.

"Properly installed televisions and FM radios will not be affected NTC by these towers," Mr. Clark said. "The most prevalent interference will be to hard-wire telephones."

The station has about four more witnesses to call before the residents can begin their arguments.

The hearing could last two more days and the board may not render a decision for several days after its conclusion.

"The choice of times during the day very much biases the presentation," said Bruce Greenberg, a Sykesville businessman who lives near the tower site. "The applicant has a paid staff, who will be here. The residents have great difficulty. Evening meetings are the only way to have full representation."

Board members said they would consider the suggestion, but the logistics would be difficult.

"Three-day hearings could drag on for nine nights," said James L. Schumacher, the newest appointee on the three-member panel.

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