Baltimore’s Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation is delaying a public hearing on the city’s proposal to erect a telecommunications tower in Druid Hill Park, days after neighbors voiced their displeasure at the thought of a 180-foot-tall pole altering sight lines of the historic 745-acre space.
CHAP updated its March 12 agenda this afternoon, marking the item “postponed,” and has rescheduled it for April 9.
The commission is considering the tower for concept review because the park is a city-owned property, placing it under CHAP’s purview. Eric Holcomb, the preservation commission’s executive director, said Thursday the city’s Real Estate Department, housed within the Office of the Comptroller, moved to delay the hearing because officials “wanted to have more time to reach out to community groups” about their plans.
The city wants to build the 180-foot-tall telecom tower at 1 Safari Park Drive in part to save on taxpayer dollars, as it is currently leasing space on TV Hill near Woodberry for its telecommunications infrastructure serving police, fire department and public works personnel. According to a letter submitted to CHAP by a hired consultant last month, Baltimore could save $1 million in rental expenses over the next three years, and $3.5 million by 2033, while also boosting signal strength for first responders.
“The need to maintain a sustainable and strong public safety communications network is essential for strengthening the City’s public safety communication network,” Advantage Environmental Consultants wrote in its Feb. 15 letter to CHAP.
The city also stands to profit from leasing out use of its planned, proprietary tower to private cell carriers (officials are in talks with T-Mobile, per an email from a Real Estate Department staffer obtained by Baltimore Fishbowl).
Consultants also say the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, which rents its space in the park from the city, could use the tower for its staff and volunteers’ radio communications.
Put simply, neighbors oppose the idea because of how it looks.
Advantage Environmental Consultants has proposed four different designs for the tower: One is camouflaged with Monopine material, which shrouds towers with synthetic material to make them look like evergreen trees; the second is a boxier, customizable “marquee” option with green-painted legs and tan panels; the third is cloaked in Monopine for 130 feet and topped with a 50-foot mirror extension; and the fourth looks like a traditional monopole antenna tower.
The Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Council authored a letter to CHAP in late February objecting to all of the options.
Daniel Hindman, who lives in the Auchentoroly Terrace community and sits on the Mondawmin council’s board, said they feel each of the options is equally unappealing, as they all “disrupt the natural setting” of the historic park designed by Howard Daniels.
The letter cites the the wishes of former Mayor Thomas Swann, quoted from his speech inaugurating Druid Hill Park in 1860, for the land to remain secluded “from the intrusions and bustle of a crowded city,” and maintain “this type of nature in its undisturbed simplicity and grandeur.”
“We support the original and intended vision for the park presented by Mayor Swann,” the letter states.
An opposition flyer circulating online uses images from the consultant’s presentation to make its case, displaying how any of the four fielded designs would be highly visible when looking at the zoo’s Mansion House.
The consultant’s presentation also shows the tower would be visible from areas of Beechwood Drive, which runs through the park, and from the main entrance at Gwynns Falls Parkway and one of the two disc golf courses, among other spots.
“We do think it’s important that the city value wise use of our tax dollars,” Hindman said, lauding officials’ effort to save money by not having to lease space on TV Hill. However, he said the city has not considered the wishes of the communities surrounding the park, and did not reach out to them before submitting its plans to CHAP.
The Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Council’s letter asks for the city to reconsider the cell tower’s location, asserting that any site should minimize changes to the views of existing buildings, like the zoo’s Mansion House. It also calls on the city enter into an agreement with the Parks and People Foundation and the Department of Recreation and Parks to invest any future savings from the tower into infrastructure at Druid Hill.
Maryland Zoo in Baltimore spokeswoman Jane Ballentine told Baltimore Fishbowl the hilly terrain of the park—”the dreaded Druid Hills,” she joked—often creates issues communicating via radio, a medium that security, personnel and volunteers use “all day long,” she said.
Hindman sympathizes with the zoo’s situation, but added, they are “really concerned about this, we’re happy to sit down and talk and try to find a more equitable solution for the community that really fits what the park space is intended for.”
Hindman said the Bolton Hill Community Association has also signed onto the Mondawmin council’s letter, and the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council is reviewing it.
The group has planned a closed discussion with city and zoo officials, as well as the project’s consultants, next Wednesday, Hindman said.
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