Panel reverses order on tower construction

January 11, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

The county Board of Zoning Appeals reversed a stop work order yesterday that had halted construction of a Sykesville telecommunications tower since Oct. 31, but the issue will almost certainly be settled in court.

The ruling would allow West Shore Communications, the contractor, to continue building the 200-foot tower adjacent to Piney Run Lake, just outside Sykesville, as soon as the appeals board issues its written opinion in 30 days or less, said board member Claude R. Rash.

But the county, Sykesville and nearby residents all have said they plan to go to Carroll County Circuit Court. "Once the formal decision is issued, the county will file an appeal in Circuit Court to stay further construction until the issue is decided," said Charles W. Thompson Jr., county attorney.

Such a lawsuit would place the county in the unprecedented position of suing itself.

Clark Shaffer, the attorney for West Shore, said the zoning board "has clearly reversed the stop work order. Clearly, they felt we had proceeded under the law."

Mr. Shaffer said he would wait for the written decision to "analyze and see where we go from here."

But West Shore was not told to wait for the board's written opinion of an Oct. 26 decision approving construction of the 200-foot steel free-standing tower on Hollenberry Road.

After getting a county work permit Oct. 28, West Shore began construction of the tower the next day, working through the weekend before the County Commissioners met on the site Oct. 31 and issued an immediate stop-work order.

At the same time, the commissioners enacted an ordinance prohibiting tower construction without an adequate fall zone -- a distance equal to the height of the tower plus 50 feet. The ordinance applied to any towers that did not have a use and occupancy permit.

Mr. Shaffer contends West Shore "had proceeded far enough" to be vested in the project and that the new ordinance does not apply to its tower.

"It is illegal for the government to apply an ordinance to a project that has proceeded and to which it has given a permit," Mr. Shaffer said. "You can't say 'tear your house down. We have changed the law.' "

The town and the neighbors had filed an appeal of the Oct. 26 Board of Zoning Appeals decision minutes after the issuance of a building permit to West Shore. Attorneys for the town and residents contend that their appeal should have stayed any building permit.

Kathy Blanco-Losada, a Hollenberry Road resident who had participated in the appeal, said she was not surprised at the board's ruling yesterday.

"This issue keeps snowballing and taking on new directions," she said.

Ms. Blanco-Losada will decide her next step after meeting with her attorney. She will ask neighbors for help.

"I can't carry this alone anymore," she said. "It has to be a neighborhood thing."

The Piney Run Action Committee, a citizens group formed shortly after the residents became aware of plans for the tower in November 1993, gathered 700 signatures on a petition and hired an attorney to represent the group in hearings last winter.

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