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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
The county Planning Board will hold a procedural public hearing on Sept. 26 on the communications tower proposed for the intersection of Georgia Avenue (Route 97) and the Intercounty Connector (Route 200), but the board’s decision will likely have no impact on the tower being built at the site.
In the meantime, the community is not ready to give up the battle to prevent the tower from being built at that location because of concerns at how the structure will affect their health and property values, and fight could include legal action.
Fred Boyd, supervisor for Area 3 of the Planning Department, said the Planning Board will review the proposal to erect the tower under the mandatory referral process, which is applied to some types of public uses.
“It is a somewhat complex requirement of public agencies that want to change the use of public property to send proposals to the commission for review,” he said. “But it is not in any way binding of the applying agencies.”
Boyd said it is an advisory process only.
“Yes, it is a public hearing, and yes, the board is interested in hearing what people have to say, but the Planning Board cannot take any action that precludes the State Highway Administration from taking action.”
Boyd said the public can testify by either signing up in advance online or when they arrive at the hearing. The time of the hearing had not been determined by The Greater Olney News press time, but he said information will be posted on the website, https://montgomeryplanningboard.org, as the date nears.
The tower is a part of a 22-site system comprised of towers, monopoles and dishes designed to improve the emergency communications system. It is a state project, but the county plans to co-locate its communications equipment on the tower.
The Olney community learned last summer that the state, along with the previous administration of Montgomery County, had planned the tower, then described as 350 feet tall, when some received notice of the public hearing scheduled for July 26, 2018.
In addition to how the tower might impact their health and property values, some area residents expressed anger over the lack of transparency and opportunity for public input.
The state agreed to delay the hearing and promised a community meeting. The meeting was not held until March and was attended by nearly 400 residents who received few answers to their questions.
In April, County Executive Marc Elrich (D) and State Highway Administrator Greg Slater told the community that the proposed location was “off the table” and that they would seek alternative sites.
Members of the Greater Olney Civic Association (GOCA) and several homeowners associations worked to determine a more suitable site. They recommended a site — known as Site 7 — located about a half-mile away from the Georgia Avenue/Intercounty Connector (ICC) location to the county and state, and officials had said the site was “promising.”
However, those efforts were halted in July when Gov. Larry Hogan (R) stated that the tower will be built as originally planned at Georgia and the ICC, citing safety concerns.
The County Council on July 30 then voted unanimously to move forward with its plans to use the communications tower the state plans to erect at that site.
Local community leaders remain frustrated by the process.
“I am just not sure that there is anything we could do at this point that will change anything,” GOCA President Matt Quinn said.
Robert Zimmerman, president of the Brooke Manor Estates Homeowners Association, said his community is not ready to give up.
“We are is exploring legal action and looking into things we may file,” he said. “There is information that has been provided to us that is very questionable. The whole process has been tainted and it doesn’t make any of us happy that our government is working this way.”
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