Building of tower is halted

November 01, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

The county issued a stop-work order at noon yesterday on a controversial telecommunications tower near Sykesville.

With a building permit received late Friday, West Shore Communications, which has planned the project for nearly a year, had started the work Saturday.

"They had already dug the hole and were planning to pour the cement, but the county shut them down," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman.

Construction cannot resume, according to the terms of a new ordinance. Under the ordinance, which three Carroll County commissioners unanimously voted into law at the Hollenberry Road site yesterday, the tower cannot be built.

"They cannot build that tower on Hollenberry Road," said Commissioner Julia W. Gouge. "The company knew all along that we were planning this ordinance. They were taking a risk by starting to build."

Mr. Herman said the action means the commissioners "listened to the concerns of the residents and the town." The mayor and several residents whose properties adjoin the tower site met the county commissioners at the property yesterday.

West Shore planned to build a 200-foot structural steel tower on the conservation-zoned land and lease space to several communications companies. The commissioners did not wait until they returned to Westminster to take action. At the site, they unanimously approved an ordinance that would curtail towers in residential areas. The law will apply to the Sykesville tower and others that are planned.

Mrs. Gouge said that on the visit she was struck by "the reality of the site" and the proposed tower's proximity to several homes. She was concerned about the lack of an adequate fall zone -- the area in which a tower would land if it fell intact.

"There are houses closely around the tower," she said. "This is not a safe venture. This can't happen again. The new regulations are in place."

The new ordinance contains a fall zone requirement, which must be equal to the height of the tower plus a 200-foot buffer zone. That requirement makes it impossible to build the present tower on Hollenberry Road.

"We are very disappointed that the commissioners passed a law after we complied and obtained all permits under the existing law," said Clark Shaffer, attorney for West Shore. "They passed a law that makes our site unusable for this tower."

The new ordinance also prohibits construction of towers in residential zones.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy called the controversy that pitted residents against telecommunications companies "a struggle unfair from the beginning."

"It was a David and Goliath situation with the neighbors nearly powerless to counter all the moves by Cellular One," he said.

Mr. Lippy also questioned construction on conservation-zoned land.

"The pristine beauty of conservation areas should be preserved," Mr. Lippy said. "Conservation zoning was never designed for something as unaesthetic as a tower."

West Shore had obtained a building permit Friday, minutes before an appeal was filed by Sykesville and Kathleen Blanco-Losada, whose property adjoins the tower site.

"The adoption of the new ordinance effectively prohibits

building," said Charles W. Thompson Jr., county attorney. "The permit is revoked and no longer effective."

Ms. Blanco-Losada, who called the commissioners at their homes when construction started Saturday morning, stressed the importance of the on-site inspection.

"The commissioners had to come here and see how close our houses are to the tower," she said. "I am pleased they had the courage to make this determination."

Mr. Shaffer said he is discussing possible actions with West Shore. The company has the option to file suit against the county in Circuit Court.

"I am certain the county commissioners would not have prepared the ordinance, unless they could support it in court," said Jeff Griffith, attorney for Ms. Blanco-Losada.

He said the appeal of the county Planning and Zoning Commission's site-plan approval remains viable, although he added it may no longer be necessary.

Mr. Griffith also plans to file an appeal in Circuit Court to the Board of Zoning Appeals' denial Wednesday of motions to rescind the Planning Commission waiver of a fall zone requirement for the tower.

"We will file in order to preserve our right to appeal," Mr. Griffith said.

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