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195-foot cell towers proposed

September 13, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

American Tower Corporation of Millersville, Md., wants to build two 195-foot telephone communications towers in Washington County so it can lease space to cell phone companies.

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The towers, to be built in the Cedar Ridge and Beaver Creek areas, would be among the highest in Washington County, said Permits and Inspections Director Paul Prodonovich.

The Washington County Planning Commission will consider the requests at its meeting today at 7 p.m. in the Washington County Commissioners meeting room. No public hearing is scheduled because one was held at an Aug. 4 meeting of the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals.

The company wants to put one tower on land owned by Cedar Ridge Children's Home and School Inc., a private, nonprofit organization which operates a home for troubled and abused boys, and Cedar Ridge School, a special education program with 28 students. The land is east of Cedar Ridge Road and south of Interstate 70.

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The tower would be less than 500 feet from Cedar Ridge School, said David Swacina, the school's chief executive officer. Cedar Ridge would have a 50-year lease with the tower company, he said.

The organization and cell phone users will benefit from the towers, he said.

The Beaver Creek tower would be on a 109-acre farm owned by Charles E. Martin at 10405 Rock Bottom Lane, near Mount Aetna Road, north of I-70. It would replace a smaller, less powerful 60-foot tower at the site.

The company puts up towers and then cell phone and pager companies lease space on the them, said Scott Igelhart, sites acquisition manager.

In this case, at least one cell phone company has expressed interest in leasing space on another tower and others are considering it, Igelhart said. He would not name the companies.

There is a need nationwide for more cell phone towers to meet the increasing demand by cell phone users, he said. The towers are built to accommodate six to 10 carriers, and at least two carriers are needed for it to be profitable, he said.

The requests are the first since the county changed its rules regarding towers.

Previously, free-standing towers were handled with permits rather than requiring Washington County Planning Commission approval, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

But in recent years, the County Commissioners have heard complaints from residents about cell phone towers "popping up" around the county without them knowing about it, he said. There were also concerns they were sometimes unsightly, he said. Companies now must notify neighbors before putting up a tower.

At its Aug. 4 meeting, the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals approved variance requests by the company. The vote reduced standard county requirements, including the distance the tower must be from the nearest property line.

Only one person, Andrew Hyman of Sandy Hook, spoke against the towers. According to meeting minutes, Hyman said a tower would reduce the visual appeal of the Appalachian Trail, which is near the Beaver Creek site.

Hyman could not be reached for comment.

Planning Director Robert Arch said he has not heard of any other criticism of the proposals.

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