Proposed Cell Towers Near School Grounds Generate Controversy

The siting of cell towers is often challenging from a planning and zoning perspective.  Concerns over location, height, and public safety are often raised.  The challenge can increase when the proposed towers are near schools, as two recent cases indicate.

The first situation is in Anne Arundel County and deals with a proposed 99-foot cell tower at Piney Orchard Elementary School and potentially other public school sites.  In response to concerns raised by a local citizens’ group raised over the agreement, County Council Member Jamie Benoit has introduced legislation that would prohibit companies from building free-standing towers on school property (shorter antennae would still be allowed on roofs or water towers).  A September 19 Capital-Gazette article summarizes the issue:

Benoit said his bill “clarifies” the existing County Code, which prohibits telecommunications towers within 200 feet of a school.  …

Benoit’s bill comes after members of a Piney Orchard advocacy group and Prince George’s County lawmakers who represent a portion of west county asked the Board of Education to terminate its lease with Virginia-based Milestone Communications.

School officials declined, and have predicted the agreement could lead to construction of towers at numerous schools around the county.

Schools spokesman Bob Mosier expressed concerns that Benoit’s proposal might infringe on the school system’s rights as a property owner, and limit its ability to raise money in a “fiscally constrained environment.”

A public hearing on the bill is set for October 21.

The second situation is in Montgomery County where state officials are supporting a 180-foot tower near the Carderock Springs Elementary School.  The primary purpose of the tower would be to provide emergency first responders with better communication coverage.  A September 18 Gazette.net article summarizes the concerns raised by local residents at a September 17 meeting on the proposal:

But residents said they feared having a tower that emitted electromagnetic radiation or electromagnetic fields so close to Carderock Springs Elementary School, a concern dismissed out-of-hand by officials.  …

“We don’t want our kids to be case studies 10 years from now, for cancer and other things,” said Bettina Guevara-Timms, who moved to Carderock Springs recently.

“Any connection between RF emissions and cancer of any form has been totally inconclusive,” said Phil Lazarus of the State Highway Administration. He urged those concerned to visit the Federal Communications Commission’s website to read up on safety issues. “I’m not making this up.” …

No agreement has been finalized, but if everything goes as planned, construction would begin in the summer of 2015.

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