By Greg Wehner, Staff Writer
(June 16, 2022) The Worcester County Commissioners approved an amendment to the zoning code on June 7 that will restrict the placement of antennas to no less than 500 feet from a residential dwelling in agricultural districts, providing the Board of Zoning Appeals concurs.
The previous wording of the code permitted the towers to be constructed no less than 1,000 feet from residential buildings in A-1 and A-2 agricultural districts.
As part of the approval, the property owner must prove prime agricultural soils are protected and the land is actively being used for agricultural purposes.
The reduction would be based on protection of existing mature tree growth, steep slopes, wetlands, stream corridors, habitats of threatened or endangered species, or similar features on the property that the BZA members consider as reasons for allowing a particular site to be used.
Kristen Stelzer of the Silver Spring, Maryland-based Arcola Towers LLC requested the amendment change on behalf of its client, Josh Kurtz, who operates a farm on Taylor Road in Snow Hill.
Stelzer told commissioners the family-owned farm is an excellent location to allow for a special exemption.
Kurtz and his father, James Kurtz, were also at the public hearing and told the commissioners that Arcola approached them about putting a cell tower on their property to help improve service.
“I mean, it’s terrible,” James said, referring to the cell phone service near his farm.
To erect a tower on the property under the current code — 1,000 feet away from all residential dwellings — would mean the tower would end up being in the middle of the field.
If placed there, a driveway would need to be cut through the farm and there would be a loss of profits and operations.
Moving the tower to another area, closer to buildings, would be more advantageous and a better fit, he said.
The tower would be placed into a nook where it is much more hidden and less intrusive to operations.
Commissioner Ted Elder said farms need to be preserved, but cellphone reception also needs to be improved, so this was a good compromise.
“I believe this is the right thing to do here,” Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said, agreeing with Elder and adding that it offers flexibility and a better signal.
Commissioner Chip Bertino, on the other hand, was concerned that the decision would go countywide.
The commissioner asked if there was a way to make this property-specific.
Bertino found out that can’t be done, since anyone requesting the reduction would need to go before the BZA for approval.
“Although this is for everyone, it doesn’t mean everyone will get it,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said. “Unfortunately, today, we live and die by the cell phone.”
When it came to a vote, the commissioners approved the reduction 5-2, with Commissioners Bertino and Jim Bunting voting against the measure.