'Fall zone' shortened for proposed tower

August 17, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

In an unprecedented decision yesterday, Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission members agreed to reduce the "fall zone" for a proposed 200-foot cellular telephone tower in Sykesville.

Previously, commission members have required the radius of the fall zone -- the area where a tower might land if it fell -- to be equivalent to the height of the communications tower.

However, at the request of Cellular One attorney Mark Sapperstein, the commission OK'd a site plan that reduced the fall zone by about 90 feet, where it would extend into adjoining properties.

"To my knowledge, . . . this is the first time the commission has approved a reduction," said Steven Ford, county development review supervisor. "In the past, the planning commission has wanted to be on the safe side."

Cellular One is building the tower on property leased from William J. and Phyliss Shand.

The Blanco-Losada and Gassaway families, who own the adjoining properties on Hollenberry Road, had refused to sign easements agreeing to the 200-foot fall zone and allowing Cellular One to retrieve equipment if it fell on their properties.

"I'm just very frustrated at this point," said Kathy Blanco-Losada, who spoke at yesterday's commission meeting. "What do ordinary citizens have to do? Is it possible for an ordinary citizen's opinion to carry any weight when put up against corporations?"

Although she cannot see the tower from her home, Ms. Blanco-Losada said it "will be all [the Gassaways] see from their front picture window." The previously proposed 200-foot fall zone ends about 10 feet from the Gassaway house, she said.

The Gassaways were unavailable for comment.

But planning commission member Robert Lennon said he and member Dennis Bowman, who voted for the site plan, were convinced Cellular One had addressed all pertinent safety issues.

Donald I. Dell, the county commissioner on the planning board, voted against the plan. Planning commission member Zeno Fisher, an employee of Bell Atlantic, abstained from the vote. The final vote was 2-1.

"The Board of Zoning Appeals had approved it [the tower] without any specific requirement for setbacks," Mr. Lennon said. "Towers of this type, if they fall down, collapse on themselves.

"They don't fall like a stick, going straight down. There was nothing demonstrated to the planning commission that created a safety issue that required more of a fall area than was granted."

Carroll County's commissioners are considering regulations, written by the Planning and Zoning Commission last month, that would require a 1,000-foot fall radius for communications towers built in residential areas.

"Why have that happening on the one hand and then on the other have a tower that doesn't meet those regulations?" Ms. Blanco-Losada said. "It seems to be working at cross purposes to me.

"But when push comes to shove, if somebody [who] wants something to happen has influence, it will happen, no matter what regulations are in place."

Mr. Lennon, who said no one has lobbied him or officially approached the commission about the tower, said it was approved under current regulations because Cellular One had already received Board of Zoning Appeals approval.

The tower, which will be on Hollenberry Road, has been a source of controversy since the Cellular One and Bell Atlantic telephone companies proposed building it last fall.

Neighbors, led by Beachmont Drive resident Cathleen Heisch, collected nearly 700 signatures and hired an attorney to fight the tower.

Despite the protests, county Board of Zoning Appeals members approved a variance for the tower in February, allowing the project to proceed. Members said under current regulations, they could find no reason to deny the variance request.

Bell Atlantic bowed out of the deal in January after hearing about citizen opposition. The citizen group, which no longer had money for the attorney, chose not to appeal the decision in Circuit Court.

"The thing I'm angriest about is that the county wanted this tower, and it was going to go up, no matter what," Ms. Blanco-Losada said. "I was told by a number of sources that the county wants this tower for emergency medical communications.

"Our sense from the beginning was that we were not going to be successful, whatever we did."

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