Harford County, Md., Walks Line on Cell Tower Placement Regulations

Though county officials are relaxing regulations around where towers can be located, they are also adding rules about their proximity to adjoining properties.

by Allan Vought, The Aegis / November 21, 2017
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(TNS) –– Harford County 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.

Legislation permitting cell towers in a handful of zones where they were previously prohibited, principally high density R3 and R4 residential, was approved by the County Council at its Nov. 14 legislative session.

The bill, 17-018, was amended prior to passage to 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.

The legislation still awaits County Executive Barry Glassman’s signature, after which there will be a 60-day referendum period before it becomes law.

Councilman Michael Perrone, the legislation’s sponsor, acknowledged it came about because of a community issue in Joppatowne, which is in Perrone’s council district and also where he lives.

A cell tower developer has begun the approval process to locate a 120-foot tower on the parking lot of the Rumsey Towers office building in the 600 block of Towne Center Drive.

A community meeting hosted by the developer in September brought forth opposition from residents, Perrone said, many of whom live along the nearby Gunpowder River waterfront and don’t want to see a cell tower sticking out on the skyline.

The problem, Perrone explained during a public hearing on the legislation Nov. 7, is there are few alternatives to locate a tower in Joppatowne which, in addition to being relatively flat, has mostly R3 and R4 residential zoning, two of a handful of zones where cell towers are not permitted either as a matter of right or by special exception with approval from the Board of Appeals.

Perrone said representatives of a local church have since inquired if the developer would consider incorporating the tower into the church’s steeple, which Perrone said could be a “win-win” for the church, the community and the tower developer, provided the zoning would permit it. In the case of the church, he said, the proposed tower currently would not be permitted.

If a community organization or a homeowners association wants to make some income from a cell tower rental in a common area, Perrone said, he sees nothing wrong with it.

The Rev. Adam Shellenbarger, pastor of Joppatowne Christian Church, testified at the hearing in support of the legislation. He said the church, in the 700 block of Trimble Road, has expressed an interest in being a site for the proposed tower.

Perrone said cell service from T-Mobile is not good in Joppatowne, nor is some over-the-air Internet service, and he supports improving reception. The proposed Rumsey Towers tower, he said, is being developed on behalf of T-Mobile.

He acknowledged, as did some of his council colleagues, that like much else in fast evolving communications technology, cell towers may eventually become a thing of the past, but until they are, he said, Joppatowne and similarly affected communities should have the best service options available.

Councilman Jim McMahan criticized the initial version of the bill, saying the existing law on cell towers and Perrone’s updates did not address the safety factor of what happens when a tower falls and there are structures nearby.

“As someone who worked in the radio business, I know these towers do come down sometimes,” he said during the public hearing. McMahan pointed out a law he co-sponsored in 2009 that addressed zoning for wind turbines with significant setback requirements to protect neighboring structures.

Perrone came back the following week with amendments to his bill establishing the 125 percent setback, and his bill passed 6-0. Councilman Joe Woods was absent.

Under the final version of the legislation, a tower developer would still have to obtain a special zoning exception to erect one in an R3 or R4 zone. In addition, the legislation makes these and other zones, including B2 community business, less favored over industrial, B3 general business or agricultural zones.

Other zones will be considered for a tower, according to the legislation, only if the applicant “can demonstrate that no suitable alternative site exists.”

©2017 The Aegis (Bel Air, Md.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.