While plans to place cell phone towers continue to move forward, parents and activists say they think the company building the towers needs to file for a special exception because it will make more than four maintenance visits a year. “It’s simple math,” said Thea Scarato, a Greenbelt resident and parent of two children […]
While plans to place cell phone towers continue to move forward, parents and activists say they think the company building the towers needs to file for a special exception because it will make more than four maintenance visits a year.
“It’s simple math,” said Thea Scarato, a Greenbelt resident and parent of two children in PGCPS. “There are going to be more than four visits. It should need a special exception.”
In a previous report by The Sentinel, county planning department officials said the cell phone tower applications do not need a special exception because the towers will only be 151 feet high—lower than the county’s zoning ordinance requirement limitation of 199 feet. However, according to Scarato, cell phone tower applications should go through a process to get a special exception because there will be at least four maintenance site visits per year, according to the leasing agreement between Prince George’s County Public Schools and Milestone Communications.
“Lessee agrees that it will inspect the Leased Premises and the Base Station no less frequently than once every three months,” according to a copy of the leasing agreement obtained by The Sentinel.
According to the section 27-445.04 of the county’s zoning ordinance states: “The building or enclosure shall be unmanned, with infrequent (4 or fewer per year) visits by maintenance personnel and with access and parking for no more than 1 vehicle.”
“In Montgomery County, cell towers go through the special exception process when criteria is met,” Scarato said. “So why is Prince Georges County failing to follow its own code that dictates the same process?”
If an applicant wants to do something other than what is permitted, then they need to file a special exception, said Debra Borden, associate general counsel of the county’s Department of Park and Planning. However, Borden said Milestone has not provided any evidence showing it will make more than four visits a year.
“When does four not equal four?” Borden said.
According to Anika Jackson, the planning department does not get involved with the cell phone towers unless an applicant files for a special exception. She also said parents do not completely understand the permitting process.
“They are making assumptions that are incorrect,” she said.
Deborah Gallagher, a permit review supervisor for the planning department said applicants must demonstrate conformance with the zoning requirements, including a note on the plan regarding the number of site visits.
Jackson said the Department of Permitting and Inspection is in charge of issuing a permit to Milestone to construct the towers, and the permitting department does not consult the leasing agreement.
Susan Hubbard, public information officer for the Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement, said, “Prince George’s County does not require every cell tower to go through the special exception process. Each application is reviewed and each application is different. If Park and Planning determines the application must go through the special exception process due to zoning restrictions associated with the site, then it goes through the process.”
Once a cell tower is built, someone would have to file a complaint if there were more than four site visits a year, Borden said. Then, DPIE would have to review the complaint and enforce the county’s requirements regarding site visits if the complaint were found to be true.
Janis Sartucci, a Montgomery County resident, helped stop the construction of cell phone towers on six Montgomery County Public School locations by citing a need for a special exception. She said she thinks the Prince George’s towers need a special exception as well, and thinks parents will remain active.
“There are many, many parents opposed to cell phone towers for different reasons,” Sartucci said. “It won’t be hard to miss site visits. I think people will be watching.”
“I think the nature of the business clearly dictates that there will more than four visits,” Thea Scarato said. “It should not be an enforcement issue.”
As previously reported by The SentineI, in 2011 the county’s Board of Education signed a leasing agreement allowing Milestone Communications to choose 73 public schools as potential sites for future cell phone towers.The Board of Education will receive $25,000 per tower site, according to the leasing agreement. Each school will receive 40 percent of gross revenues generated from the tower on its site while the remaining 60 percent of tower revenue will go to Milestone Communications.
No towers have been built yet, but the application process for individual school sites is already underway. Green Valley Academy of Temple Hills, Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, and Charles Carroll Middle School in Carrolton are among the first schools to be approved as sites for cell phone towers.
The applications for Charles Flowers High School and Kenmoor Middle School are pending.