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City puts off vote on first step for 195-foot communications tower

City utilities director said city water division owns 5.11-acre lot near Watershed Lane that is targeted for tower

February 15, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER | kate.alexander@herald-mail.com
  • The Hagerstown City Council would not commit Tuesday to an understanding that would start the ball rolling for a 195-foot communications tower on city-owned land east of Smithsburg. City Utilities Director Mike Spiker said the city water division owns the 5.11-acre lot near Watershed Lane that Liberty Towers has targeted for the tower.
By Chad Trovinger, Graphic Artist

The Hagerstown City Council would not commit Tuesday to an understanding that would start the ball rolling for a 195-foot communications tower on city-owned land east of Smithsburg.

Liberty Towers LLC of Rockville, Md., has approached the city about leasing a piece of land off Foxville Road (Md. 77) for a new communications tower near the Frederick County line, according to city documents.

Liberty Towers and city staff drafted a memorandum of understanding that would allow the tower company to move forward with its process "under the mutual understanding that both parties continue to work towards the completion of the 'Agreement' (land lease agreement)," the documents said.

"I'm just not so willing to give away an 80-by-80 foot (piece of land) because a cell tower company says, "Boy, that's a nice place for it,'" Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Tuesday. "I don't want to sell our taxpayers down the river and I don't want to see an eyesore if we can avoid it."

City Utilities Director Mike Spiker said the city water division owns the 5.11-acre lot near Watershed Lane that Liberty Towers has targeted for the tower.

Spiker said he and City Attorney William Nairn reviewed Liberty Towers' proposed land lease agreement for the tower and found it "onerous."

"There were a couple of concerns we had," Spiker said Tuesday.

Because of the site's proximity to Camp David, which has restrictions on surrounding air space, staff was concerned about Liberty Towers securing a release from the government, he said.

There also were concerns about access to the site, about the company receiving Washington County zoning approval, and what, if any, benefit the tower would bring to the city.

"I'd like to know what this is worth," Metzner said.

Spiker said he would take no less than $1,200 a month for leasing the land, given that six years ago the city leased land for a communications tower at $800 a month.

However, terms of a lease had not yet been negotiated, he said.

While the tower would be miles from any city residents, council members expressed concern about the proposed tower's visual impact.

"I go by there all the time and I would think it's going to be visible," Councilman Martin Brubaker said.

"It's going to be visible," Councilman William Breichner said.

"When somebody talks about going up to virgin land ... and starts talking about fencing in 80-by-80, and, in the middle of the country, putting up a big tall tower for a cell phone, or I don't even know what it's for ... I would also like to have some idea of the visual impact," Metzner said.

According to city documents, Liberty has proposed a 195-foot, self-supporting tower that would sit on a 200-square-foot piece of fenced land.

"You are going to see it from a long ways off," Spiker said.

To give the council a sense of the visual impact, Spiker said that about a quarter-mile from the proposed site is an approximately 125-foot communications tower that is privately owned.

Despite Spiker's assertion that the memorandum of understanding would not bind the city to agree to the tower other than in theory, the council pushed off voting on the understanding until Spiker could provide additional information.

Among the additional information requested by the council was if the city would be able to use the tower to improve its communications, what and how many carriers Liberty Towers planned to sublet space on the tower, and a proposed lease rate.

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