Sykesville's Tower Power Play

September 09, 1994

If construction of a 200-foot telecommunications tower in Sykesville by Cellular One is halted because the town get left out of the review process, many town residents would consider it poetic justice.

They feel this project was railroaded through Carroll County's approval process against public wishes and county regulations. It would be fitting, in their minds, if a little-known agreement between Sykesville and the county tied up the tower project.

Last spring, in spite of protests by hundreds of residents, the county Board of Zoning Appeals granted Cellular One a variance allowing it to build the tower on conservation-zoned land off Hollenberry Road. Even though residents complained that the structure would destroy their views and reduce property values, the zoning board granted the variance. Residents did not demonstrate sufficient harm, the board opined.

Last month, the county's Planning and Zoning Commission granted approval to the proposal even though it had to reduce the radius of the tower's "fall zone" -- the area where the tower might land if it collapsed -- tenfold from 1,000 feet to 90 feet. The decrease was approved after at least two adjacent property owners refused to sign easements allowing Cellular One to enter their properties to retrieve fallen equipment.

Now comes the rub: Sykesville and the county have an agreement that gives the town the power to review all development projects within a mile of the town boundary. Although the tower is only about 1,250 feet beyond the town limits, Sykesville officials never had the opportunity to review this project.

Town Manager James Schumacher now would like the county to begin the review process from scratch.

If this happens, the cellular phone company has real problems; the planning commission has been redrafting rules for towers that would require them to be at least 1,000 feet from any existing dwelling. At least two houses are within 200 feet of the proposed tower, so the new setback rules, if approved, could possibly scuttle the project.

Nevertheless, another review might reinstill the belief that county officials are actually reviewing requests for variances, not just rubber-stamping them.

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