Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Dennett Road School Playground sits 28 feet from the base of the new 125-foot cell tower.
A group of concerned citizens from Mountain Lake Park is organizing to request that the Garrett County Commissioners revoke a permit to construct a proposed 125 ft. cell tower that neighbors residential properties located nearby. The permit in question is Application and Permit Number 18-205, MT LAKE PARK CELL TOWER.
The Oakland Drive tower location is in a patch of land that conveniently falls outside the Mountain Lake Park town limits and jurisdiction. With no county-wide zoning in place, it's up to the county's administration to decide if granting the permit is in the best interest of the county and area residents.
Will Hebden is one of the residents raising concern that the tower will be an eyesore and pose potential financial and physical threats to neighboring residents. "Our county commissioners have been unable to enact and enforce proper ordinances to protect our property, property values, safety, and health to the degree needed," begins Hebden. What Hebden is describing are residents living in a well-zoned municipality being negatively impacted by activities on adjacent properties that are on privately owned county land.
According to Hebden, if the tower were to fall or collapse, its height could strike structures and potentially damage property including public school grounds while also placing lives at risk. Residents along Pensinger Blvd. and children attending Dennett Road School are one of his primary concerns. He continues to note that adequate setbacks would avoid any risk to residents and property.
The group also warns of microwaves generated by the tower that is in close proximity to residents. Pollution and noise from the generator, service vehicles and operations will be disruptive and impact the surrounding area. The permitted site includes an environmentally sensitive area being monitored by the Maryland Department of the Environment but is not addressed in the application, according to Hebden.
The group is also turning to supporting research from The National Association of Realtors which indicates that over 90 percent of home buyers and renters are less interested in properties located near cell towers, and towers can cause a 20 percent loss in property value in similar situations. This aspect is only fueling neighborhood outrage.
Presently, the U.S. Cellular tower and buildings are under construction which will convert the land to commercial/industrial use on leased property that neighbors a residential area of Mountain Lake Park. The permitted 125-foot tower could be increased an additional 20 percent (to 150 feet) without community input and still comply with Federal Laws in contrast to the zoned height restrictions for Mountain Lake Park structures which is just 35 feet. The new tower creates visual pollution, adversely affecting the character and aesthetics of the neighborhood if you ask Hebden, whoes property is near the construction site.
"There are adverse health impacts associated with continued exposure to cell tower radiation that will affect us," Hebden explains. "Lighting and blinking 24 hours a day are disruptive."
Hebden says the County Commissioners stated that “The applicant has met all required County rules and regulations, and the County has no rules or regulations to prevent the construction of the tower.”
"This does not release them or us from the responsibilities of being good 'shepherds' for their constituents, our property, health, community, and doing the right thing," insists Hebden.
"We are angry about [the commissioners] position," he continues. "We are not even afforded the protections from cell towers enjoyed by the rest of the state."
Harford County, for example, is moving to relax regulations on where cell towers can be located, while also instituting a new requirement for how far new towers must be set back from neighboring properties.
Due to Harford County's high wireless demands, legislation will be allowing cell towers in a handful of zones where they were previously prohibited – principally high density residential areas. Amended legislation will require that any cell tower constructed in the future be set back from adjoining properties by a distance equal to 125 percent of the length of the tower.
Hebden and his group say they feel unsafe and still want the final permit and occupancy to be denied. "Now is the time to address these important issues, establish cell tower rules, regulations, or ordinances, and place a moratorium on cell tower permits until then."
What Hebden is requesting will require action downstate during the next General Assembly in Annapolis. The County would need to request and adopt a set of guidelines for future cell tower projects. With continuous communication upgrades, it's probable that expanding the footprint of towers will continue indefinitely.
Garrett County lags behind more populous parts of the state as any Verizon customer will testify. And as the interest in 5G communication demands increase, a new wave of tower installations will be required that are even more frequent and invasive.