Zoning board denies appeals against tower plan

October 27, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Without deliberation, discussion or review of construction plans, the county Board of Zoning Appeals yesterday unanimously rejected appeals against a proposed telecommunications tower just outside Sykesville, clearing the way for construction.

During the daylong hearing, the board listened to six hours of testimony and saw the construction plans for the first time.

After closing arguments, the three-member panel immediately denied residential and municipal appeals of the county Planning and Zoning Commission's action relating to the 200-foot structural steel tower, to be built within a mile of the town of Sykesville.

Opponents of the tower have 30 days to appeal the decision to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

The Planning Commission also had not seen the construction drawings when it gave site-plan approval for the tower in August.

"I am disappointed that the board did not take more time to consider what was presented today," said Kathy Blanco-Losada, whose property adjoins the site on Hollenberry Road.

Claude R. Rash, an appeals board member, referred to January hearings after which the zoning board granted a variance to allow construction of the tower on the conservation-zoned land.

"We heard a lot of testimony [yesterday] that was brought up at the original hearing," he said. "We stand on our original thoughts."

Angela Deppe, of Hollenberry Road, said, "Sticking by the original decision is a dead giveaway they didn't listen today."

Ms. Blanco-Losada, who had filed an appeal against the Planning Commission's site-plan approval, also said the board "never listened" to new testimony.

She based her appeal on the Planning Commission's waiver in August of a "fall-zone" requirement in what she called an "improper vote."

The fall zone is the area in which a tower would land, if it fell intact. If built as approved by the commission, the tower could fall 90 to 105 feet on the Blanco-Losada property.

"The commission disregarded its charge to protect the health, welfare and safety of citizens with the waiver," said Cynthia Hitt, attorney for Sykesville.

The appeals board heard testimony from witnesses trying to prove the Planning Commission vote was improper.

Abstained on vote

Planning Commission member Zeno Fisher Jr. had cited a conflict of interest and abstained from the waiver vote -- which passed 2-1. His abstention precluded a vote by alternate commission member David Duree, who votes in the absence of a member. Mr. Fisher's abstention was equivalent to a vote.

Mr. Duree said he would have voted against the waiver and tied the vote at 2-2. That would have forced Louis Pecoraro, commission chairman, to cast the deciding vote.

Mr. Pecoraro testified yesterday that his vote would have been "definitely no" to granting the fall-zone waiver.

In subsequent discussions, Mr. Fisher has recused himself on the advice of the county attorney.

"It is reprehensible that officials continue to refuse to deal with a vote that is admittedly illegal," said Ms. Blanco-Losada. "I know they are working under a time factor [from impending tower regulations], but it doesn't justify improper procedures."

Jeff Griffith, her attorney, called the Planning Commission action "arbitrary and capricious." He argued that the vote on the fall-zone waiver should be rescinded.

"The board has a check on erroneous decisions," said Mr. Griffith. "The vote was improper and should be rescinded."

More stringent rules

Since the waiver, the Planning Commission has recommended that the county adopt more stringent requirements for towers.

"The same commission which waived a fall zone has sent a new ordinance to the county commissioners asking for stricter fall-zone requirements," said Mr. Griffith. "But they declined to impose those restrictions on this site."

The new ordinance, which could take effect by Nov. 7, would require a larger fall zone and ban towers in residential or conservation areas. If the tower has not moved through the permit process, the ordinance could prevent West Shore Communications from building it.

"I will try to get permits before the new regulations take effect," said Mark Sapperstein, West Shore vice president.

He said he would consider reducing the height of the tower and moving it so that the fall zone radius would not affect neighboring properties.

L He has not submitted alternative plans to any county agency.

Since the project became public nearly a year ago, Mr. Sapperstein said he has faced an "unusual" amount of opposition to the tower.

"These people lack knowledge of the communications business, and they just don't want the tower," he said.

Engineers' testimony

The appeals board also heard testimony from structural engineers, whom it accepted as expert witnesses.

"The Planning Commission simply did not have enough information when it made its decision," said David H. Nelson, a structural engineer. "They had no design data on this tower."

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