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 Thurmont Tightens Cell Tower Regulations

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News Post (9/25/03)

Cellular phone towers shouldn't be popping up like sunflowers around town from now on.

Tuesday night, the board of commissioners amended the town's zoning regulations to place stricter requirements on companies looking to locate wireless telecommunication facilities in Thurmont. The change, drafted by the planning and zoning commission, was altered slightly and passed unanimously.

The text amendment adds a section to the zoning ordinance detailing where antennas and towers can be erected and the process for their approval. Planning commission member John Ford, the primary author of the amendment, used the wireless ordinances of other cities and towns and Frederick County as a guide and changed sections based on perceptions of Thurmont's needs.

The lone change made in the planning commission's proposal involved antennas used at homes. Glenn Muth, who plans to run for a board of commissioners' seat next month, noted that the amendment outlawed everything from amateur radio and wireless Internet antennae to television satellite dishes, so language was added to allow those items.

The commissioners considered sending the document back to the planning board for revision but decided against waiting more than a month to pass tighter regulations. Other modifications can be made as needed.

"The way this industry is," Commissioner Eddie Hobbs said, "I can see a lot of (amendments) over the years."

Mayor Martin Burns questioned whether Thurmont should accept an applicant's engineering study or have the applicant pay for the town to hire a technical expert to review plans. Commissioner Ron Terpko agreed, saying stormwater management ponds engineered by developers have been problematic.

Mr. Ford said some localities hired a consultant at the applicant's expense, but payment method varied. Some methods amounted to "a blank check" for the applicant, Mr. Ford said, and he feared it would cause companies to seek locations just outside the town's limits and control.

In other action, the board decided to leave two stop signs on North Carroll Street at its intersection with Luther Drive.

Several months ago, the signs were installed as a temporary way to slow trucks traveling to and from the NVR Homes plant. Some residents complained about the noise caused by trucks having to stop and restart, but others said all vehicles now travel more cautiously.

Mr. Burns and Mr. Hobbs favored removing the signs because of the noise complaints. But commissioners Terpko, Wayne Hooper and Kenneth Oland, citing Police Chief Terry Frushour's preference for safety, wanted the signs to remain.

The commissioners also considered whether they should impose the same tax on unincorporated businesses that they do on incorporated entities. Some commissioners said it seemed fair for all, but Mr. Terpko said it should be studied to determine its impact smaller enterprises.

"Would this affect the hairdresser who works two days a week out of her home?" he asked.

Mr. Ford noted that it could cost the town as much to administer and collect the tax as it gained from imposing it. The issue was tabled until Oct. 7.

Mr. Hooper also reported that the town's continued efforts to fix its sewer system problems have reached an important step.

ARRO Consulting Inc., the engineering firm from Hagerstown that's studying the system, has identified six or seven areas that require immediate attention. Pleasant Acres, one of the town's newer subdivisions, is one of those areas, and Mr. Hooper said the developer has been \cook tatted about the problem.

Mr. Burns later proposed that the town hold a food drive in conjunction with the Oct. 27 town election. With so many residents going to a common place, the mayor reasoned that people could bring canned goods to help the Thurmont Food Bank stock up for the upcoming holiday season.

Mr. Hooper joked that people bringing bigger cans would get more votes.

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