Correcting a Towering Mistake

November 02, 1994

The Carroll County Commissioners did the right thing this week by adopting a new ordinance governing the location of telecommunications towers. In the process, not only did they halt the construction of West Shore Communication's controversial 200-foot tower in Sykesville, the commissioners established a more rational regimen for siting these structures.

Inspecting the West Shore Communications site on Hollenberry Road was enough to convince the commissioners that earlier approval granted for the structure by the planning and zoning boards had been a mistake. The site was in a conservation zone close to Piney Run Park. It was also next to a group of houses; if it fell, the houses could be hit. Once they realized this, the commissioners approved the ordinance, which froze the tower project just as construction began.

The commissioners' decision stands in stark contrast to actions by the county's Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals. In their haste to approve construction of the tower, those two boards turned a blind eye to a number of important issues. To residents and even impartial observers, it appeared that the boards were more interested in accommodating the tower company than in making sound policy.

Building a tower in a conservation zone would have set a precedent for other inappropriate uses. The boards' waiver of the "fall zone" was ill-conceived because it threatened public safety. The fall zone is a buffer designed so that if the tower should topple, it won't strike any buildings.

While West Shore Communications will complain that it obtained its permit fair and square and complied with existing rules, the company's subsequent behavior indicates its managers knew the project was on thin ice. The tower's building permit was issued late Friday afternoon. By Saturday morning, construction had begun. The intent was to erect as much of the tower as possible before the new ordinance might take effect.

The maneuver backfired. The new ordinance grandfathers only those towers with use and occupancy permits. The West Shore tower has neither. Construction was halted immediately. Whether next week's election prompted the commissioners or concern about poorly made policy, county residents will be better off for their action.

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