Pressed by West Baltimore community groups who didn’t want to see a 180-foot-tall cell tower distract from the mostly natural landscape of Druid Hill Park, city officials have withdrawn their proposal that was set to go before Baltimore’s preservation board.
Eric Holcomb, executive director of the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, confirmed to Baltimore Fishbowl today that the plan is now off the table, at least publicly, while officials step back to dialogue more with the communities bordering the historic 745-acre park.
The city’s Department of Real Estate, housed within the Comptroller’s Office, had submitted the proposal on behalf of Recreation and Parks and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, which offered to house the tower behind its offices at the Mansion House. CHAP initially set a hearing date for this past Tuesday to consider it for review, but the meeting was postponed last week. Now it’s been withdrawn.
“The applicant has rescinded the application,” Holcomb said. The decision was likely due to the city wanting to “reach out to the community and work with them”–a step neighbors previously said had not been fulfilled.
Steward Beckham, assistant director of public affairs for the Department of Real Estate, said Friday morning that the city, T-Mobile, which is supporting the new tower proposal, the zoo and other parties will meet with neighbors “to look at alternative sites to place the tower in the zoo and then get back to them with what they found.” Thereafter, they’ll file a new application with CHAP.
We’ve reached out to the zoo for comment.
The city presently leases space from an existing tower on TV Hill, enabling first responders and the Department of Public Works to communicate via radio signal. The zoo, which rents its grounds in the park from the city, also uses the tower for its staff and volunteers to communicate via radio.
A hired consultant made the case in a February letter to CHAP that erecting a city-owned tower could help the BPD, fire department and zoo with better signals, while also saving the city as much as $1 million in rental fees over the next three years, and $3.5 million by 2033. A perk not mentioned in the report: Baltimore could also earn revenue by leasing its tower out to private cell carriers, including T-Mobile.
Word of the withdrawal comes one day after the Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Council, an umbrella nonprofit representing nine neighborhood associations in West and Northwest Baltimore, met with reps from the zoo, the city and Advantage Environmental Consultants, which drew up the schematics and authored the letter to CHAP. Councilman Leon Pinkett and representatives from Baltimore Heritage, Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s office and T-Mobile were also present.
“All in all, I think the meeting was a success inasmuch as it could be,” said Auchentoroly Terrace resident and council board member Daniel Hindman in an email. Despite the city’s withdrawal, all sides “ended on amicable terms,” he said.
Beyond asking for any new tower to be put elsewhere, the Mondawmin council has proposed a potentially more visually pleasing alternative to masking the roughly 18-story tower to make it look like a fake tree, covering it in paint and paneling or merely allowing it to stick out in plain sight as an monopole antenna, all ideas fielded by the consultant.
The neighbors’ pitch is for the city to issue a request for proposals to turn any potential new tower into a public art project. Hindman said the other parties at the meeting were open to it, but agreed it would require funding and input from various stakeholders.
Communities have also pushed back against the idea that the city would be earning revenue from the tower and not investing it back into Druid Hill Park and the surrounding locales. A letter sent by the council to CHAP last month proposed drawing up a memorandum of understanding between neighbors, the Parks and People Foundation and the Department of Recreation and Parks to allocate a portion of revenues to a special fund.
Hindman said he brought up the idea, but some parties objected to even discussing it because there were no representatives there from the mayor’s office or the city’s Department of Finance.
He said neighbors will be getting more information about other potential tower sites, and all parties are due to meet again in two to three months. “We will continue to work with the city and zoo to find a solution that serves both their needs and the community’s needs.”
This story has been updated.