SNOW HILL – In an effort to improve emergency radio coverage, county officials will consider exempting a new radio tower in West Ocean City from zoning requirements.
On Wednesday, county staff asked the Worcester County Commissioners to consider declaring construction of a new radio tower near Mystic Harbour an official “county project” so that it wouldn’t be subject to zoning restrictions. According to Fred Webster, the county’s director of emergency services, it’s the only way to get a tower built that will strengthen emergency radio coverage along Route 707.
“There are some definite holes in there when a police officer or a paramedic or a fire unit gets in that area their radios lose signal,” Webster said. “We’re trying to prevent that from happening and do this in the interest of public safety.”
Two years ago, Worcester County launched an extensive upgrade to its emergency radio system, moving it from a three-site system to a six-site system for better coverage. As part of the upgrade, it was determined an antenna would need to be placed on top of the Mystic Harbour water tower. Webster said the county was informed by the Maryland Aviation Administration such an antenna would not be allowed, as it would intrude into navigable air space.
“The result of that is we’re going to have to build a tower somewhere in that area,” he said. “There is property available on the water plant property as it exists today.”
The issue with that space, however, is that it’s not large enough that the tower would meet the county’s regular setback and separation requirements. Webster said that by the commissioners declaring the tower a county project — just as they declared the recent wastewater treatment plant upgrade a county project — the tower would not have to comply with zoning requirements. Webster pointed out that though it wouldn’t be required to meet the regular standards, the project would still be presented to the planning commission.
“The code does require it’s reviewed by the planning commission prior to your final action on a resolution,” said Kelly Shannahan, the county’s assistant chief administrative officer.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic asked how many area property owners would be affected. County staff explained that many residents of the Mystic Harbour area would be.
James Hamilton, assistant director of emergency services, said department staff had researched other options. The county had access to property near the White Marlin Mall, he said, but that wouldn’t provide the boost in radio coverage needed. There also weren’t any properties the county could acquire that would meet the needs of the radio system.
“The area to be able to get that coverage where it’s needed is very finite,” he said.
He said the proposed tower would be 135 feet tall and that antennas would increase its height to 141 feet. The tower will, however, be shorter than the nearby water tank.
The commissioners agreed to move ahead with the project but stressed the need to seek public input. The commissioners will host a public hearing Aug. 15, the same date they are scheduled to consider the resolution that would enable the tower to proceed as a county project.