CHESAPEAKE CITY — At the fifth stop on Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy’s county-wide listening tour, about a dozen residents from his hometown largely had one issue on their minds: a proposed cellular tower.
New Cingular Wireless PCS LLC, doing business for AT&T, has proposed erecting a 180-foot monopole, with a 60-by-60-foot compound at the bottom of the pole, about 250 feet west of Route 213 in north Chesapeake City. According to an application filed with the county, the pole would have space for three additional antennas.
McCarthy told the residents that he first heard about the proposed project on Saturday and only learned the details on Monday morning.
Former Town Councilwoman Rebecca Mann emphasized that a cell tower would detract from the natural beauty of the area, noting it is the beginning of the Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway, a state-designated route highlighted for its natural beauty or historical importance.
“When you’re heading north on Route 213 over the bridge, just as the road curves to the east, this tower would be directly in front of you as a focal point,” she said. “It’s very concerning to many people in town that you’re affecting the scenic aspect of our community that draws people here.”
When asked by resident Susie Campbell, McCarthy, Cecil County Department of Land Use and Development Director Eric Sennstrom and County Director of Administration Al Wein all agreed that they would not want such a tower near their home.
“I want it to be perfectly clear, I’m here to represent you folks, not AT&T,” McCarthy said.
Mann asked McCarthy whether the county would consider legislation to prohibit such towers on the scenic byway, much like it has for flashing, lighted business signs.
“I have considered something like that, but I don’t know how to define it,” McCarthy replied. “I don’t want to do anything that’s going to subject the county or town to possible lawsuits in the future. We would need to clearly define what we’re willing to accept and what we’re not willing to accept.”
Sennstrom explained the zoning process for the audience as well as the process to contest the application before the Cecil County Planning Commission and Board of Appeals, the latter of which must approve the project because it needs a special exception.
“With a special exception application, unlike a rezoning, the onus is not on the applicant, but the opposition to ultimately prove to the Board of Appeals that the proposed use at the proposed location would be worse there than anywhere else through the county in the same zones,” he said. “People can’t just come to the meeting and say, ‘We don’t want a cell tower,’ and there won’t be one.”
The county planning commission will first hear from the applicant at its 6 p.m. Aug. 19 meeting, after which it will make a recommendation to the board of appeals, which will make the final ruling at its 7 p.m. Aug. 27 meeting.
McCarthy encouraged concerned town residents to also consider reaching out to those outside of town limits about the project’s impact to solicit support at the hearings.
“Your voice has impact when they make these decisions,” he said.
In other topics, one man, who said he is a retired commercial truck driver, relayed his frustration with truck drivers who use modified exhaust systems or jake brakes while passing through town, creating noise pollution. He requested that the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office look into creating a part-time commercial vehicle enforcement division, since Maryland State Police’s unit is stretched thin over numerous counties, he said.
“If Kent County can have a unit, why can’t Cecil County justify one with the growth of all the distribution centers here?” he asked.
“If you have sensible solutions or ordinances that you think would be meaningful that we could enforce, I’d be more than glad to hear them,” McCarthy said, noting he would discuss the request with Cecil County Sheriff Scott Adams.
Campbell also questioned McCarthy’s decision to give large tax breaks to projects owned by Stewart Properties in recent years, and whether the corporation had contributed to his county executive campaign.
“I don’t think they directly contributed to my campaign, but I’m almost certain that they indirectly contributed to my campaign,” he replied, noting he benefited from support of the Cecil Business Leaders political action committee. According to campaign finance reports, however, Stewart-related entities donated about $1,500 directly to his campaign funds in 2016.
Defending his decision to support the large-scale developer, McCarthy noted that Stewart had poured in funding of its own to get the projects off the ground.
“No. 1, they had no water in the Principio area so they drilled their own wells and sold them to Artesian. They entered into a P3 (public-private partnership) to bring the sewage from the Principio area all the way to our sewage treatment facility at Carpenter’s Point. They did this primarily on their own dime,” he said. “They also paid all the front money to run gas infrastructure from Elkton all the way to Principio.”
McCarthy emphasized that the Principio projects have added thousands of new jobs with more to come, millions of square feet in commercial facility to the tax base, and incentivized the expansion of badly-needed infrastructure.
“I think these are all very positive things,” he said. “Businesses will not come to a location on well and septic, for obvious reasons. We want people on sewer for decreased environmental contamination and continuity of these services.”
McCarthy also expressed a desire to some day see the consolidation of wastewater facilities in Cecil County to one or two major facilities, rather than seeing each municipality have to operate its own.
“I doubt that happens in my lifetime. In order to do that (in Chesapeake City) you would have to run a major sewer line up to Elkton,” he said. “But I would like to create efficiencies through consolidation ... and create economy of scale.”