Fine Points on Towering Dispute

January 13, 1995

It is ironic that the Carroll County Board of Zoning Appeals this week specifically told West Shore Communications not to resume work on its 200-foot communications tower until the board's written decision had been issued. Had the board made a similar admonition three months ago, the county wouldn't now find itself tangled in knots over whether the company had a valid building permit when it began erecting its controversial tower last Oct. 28.

The appeals board gave oral notification to West Shore on Oct. 26, 1994 that it had approved the company's application. Within bTC 48 hours, the county, in unprecedented haste, granted a building permit. Within minutes of receiving the approval, a contractor began staking the location for the tower's foundation and commenced digging.

Residents who are opposing the cellular phone communications tower on the grounds that it creates safety and aesthetic problems and intrudes upon conservation-zoned land were also quick to respond. Within minutes of hearing of the board's tower approval, they filed an appeal to contest the decision. They claim that their action should have halted construction.

West Shore now claims that it has proceeded far enough to be legally "vested"; that is, it has completed enough construction that it can't be stopped. The opponents, as well as the county government administration, are taking a view opposite that of the appeals board. They claim that West Shore built without a legal permit and dispute the company's vesting claim.

Opponents and the county have appealed the zoning appeals board decision to Circuit Court. The court has two questions to decide: Did West Shore hold a valid permit, and, if it did, should construction continue while opponents appeal?

The key question here is when do appeals board verdicts become effective -- when the board gives oral notice or when its written decision is released to the public? If the board had told West Shore that its decision was effective only after written approval was issued, there would be no controversy over vesting.

Judging from its actions this week, the board must believe that its decisions are effective only after written notice. One can only wonder why the board did not make that clear last October.

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