Confused about the discussion of a cell tower at Piney Orchard Elementary School. This should help you get up to speed.
Why Are People Talking About A Cell Tower at Piney Orchard Elementary?
Milestone Communications earlier this year approached Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) on behalf of Verizon, citing a gap in cell coverage in the Piney Orchard area.
Milestone officials said the school is the best location because of its altitude and central location.
Milestone signed a master lease agreement with AACPS in 2012. Under the agreement, AACPS receives 40 percent of all rent revenues from the tower and a $25,000 one-time payment. It will also receive $5,000 for every new carrier.
In May, Milestone held a public meeting to discuss its plans for a 99-foot tower along the back of the school property. The plan would have required a variance from the county from setback requirements.
Milestone officials then met on Sept. 17 with school administrators and members of the school board to discuss a second proposal that would have placed the cell tower in the middle of a field at the school, rather than along its property line.
But as the group toured the property, they learned that the proposed site was unworkable because it was located at the site of a drainage ditch. Milestone has not returned with any new plans and has not filed anything formal with the county.
Why Do People Object to a Cell Tower at the School?
Parents of students in Piney Orchard have cited numerous concerns, including the possible health impact of radio waves, the impact on nearby property values, and the possibility of a cell tower falling over. They also are opposed to the current master lease agreement with Milestone, because it does not direct any revenue directly to Piney Orchard Elementary.
What Do School Board Members Say?
Board member and Gambrills resident Andrew Pruski said Tuesday that in hindsight, he wished the board would have taken the time to craft a set of policies governing everything from where the cell towers could be located to the manner in which parents and residents are notified of plans.
Pruski earlier in September asked the board to vote on halting all cell tower plans until such policies were crafted, but the board voted against the measure.
“Maybe this is something we all should have a looked at a little closer, but we need policies and regulations in place to define what the process is,” he said Tuesday. “How far away should it be from a building? What’s the public dialogue and how should that work?”
Pruski said he now opposes the original plan for Piney Orchard Elementary because it would have required a the approval of variance to set back requirements.
“There should be no reason for a cell phone tower in Anne Arundel County to have a variance,” Pruski said. “I didn’t think about this before until the proposal was given to us, but variances are something that are extreme.”
Board member Stacy Korbelak said she resides in the so-called cell phone “dead zone” in Piney Orchard and is understanding of the need for a tower in the community. But she said she has opposed plans for a school site because there are other nearby locations that could work.
What Does the County Council Say?
Council member Jamie Benoit (D-District 4) presented a bill last week that would ban the construction of a cell towers on school property.
Benoit said the legislation is necessary to strengthen a provision in the county code that prohibits cell tower construction within 200 feet of the property lines of schools and residential developments.
The county council is expected to review the bill on Oct. 21. In the meantime, construction of a cell tower at Broadneck High School in Cape St. Clair is set to begin. Benoit said he expects that work will be placed on hold until the council has its say. But Greg Stewart, a facilities manager with AACPS, said permits have already been issued and construction is ready to proceed.
It remains unclear whether other members of the county council will support Benoit’s bill.
Are There Alternative Sites for a Cell Tower?
Milestone has insisted the school is the best option, but some school board members and community leaders have urged the company to explore other nearby spots. There is no official list of alternative locations, but some residents have suggested a nearby BGE facility, others pointed to a water tower in Piney Orchard. The nearby nature preserve, apartment complexes or common areas in the community have also been suggested. (The current flag pole at the Piney Orchard Ice Arena currently doubles as a cell tower, but is at full capacity.)